The International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Association (IAOPA) has called on Brazilian authorities to release two U.S. pilots detained in the country following the midair collision between an Embraer Legacy business jet and a Gol Airlines Boeing 737.
"This tragic accident saddened the civil aviation community worldwide and has galvanized us to discover and correct its causes," IAOPA President Phil Boyer wrote to Brazil’s Minister of Justice, Márcio Thomaz Bastos.
"But, detaining the two pilots will only hinder the investigation."
The Brazilian government is conducting a criminal investigation simultaneously with the accident investigation. It seized the passports of the two U.S. citizens flying the Legacy jet to prevent them from leaving the country during the investigation.
Boyer noted that international agreements and guidance discourage the "inappropriate" use of safety information, including use for criminal prosecution.
"The presumption of criminal intent in conjunction with an aircraft accident investigation will stifle and thwart the objective of the investigation," Boyer said.
He also noted that since no criminal charges have been brought against the pilots in the accident, "there is apparently little evidence that would indicate a criminal act has been committed, [and] therefore they should be released."
IAOPA is a federation of 64 autonomous, nongovernmental, national general aviation organizations. IAOPA is the official voice of GA before international bodies such as ICAO.
IAOPA headquarters are in Frederick, Maryland (USA), with regional vice presidents in Switzerland, South Africa, Colombia, Brazil, and Japan.
Last week, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA) president, Phil Boyer, sent the following letter to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:
Dear Secretary Rice:
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) representing 410,000 US pilots, requests your intervention in securing the release of two American pilots currently being detained by Brazilian authorities investigating the crash of Gol Airlines Flight #1907.
These US citizens are pilots for ExcelAire and were involved in the September 29, 2006 mid-air collision between a GOL Airlines Boeing 737 and an Embraer Legacy business jet.
To date, the pilots have been detained for more than seven weeks without criminal charges or explanation, which is in violation of international aviation treaties.
It appears from media reports that the accident investigation could take another ten months to complete, placing these US pilots in jeopardy of being detained indefinitely.
AOPA is not taking a position on the accident or the investigative process; however, it is critical that due process be followed. These US citizen pilots should be treated fairly under the law, and the US State Department must take action to obtain their release and their return to the US.
AOPA urges you to intervene with the Brazilian government to facilitate the release of these Americans to allow them to return home safely.