Brazilians Rescued from Airports’ Long Lines and Delays by Air Force

TAM, Brazil’s largest airline, announced Friday night, December 22, that it had leased seven planes belonging to the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) to transport its own passengers this weekend.

Delays of several hours mostly by TAM’s planes have transformed the main Brazilian airports in Rio, São Paulo and Brasí­lia into purgatory anterooms.

The company will be using a Boeing 737, two Boeings 707 and four Embraer ERJ 145 jets. TAM’s announcement came in the wake of a note from FAB informing that it was placing eight of its planes at the private airlines’ disposal in response to a order from president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

According to the airline, the chartered aircraft will be flying the following routes: Tom Jobim International in Rio – Confins in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais – Salvador – Maceió (round trip using a Boeing 707); Tom Jobim – Brasí­lia – Tom Jobim and Tom Jobim – Guarulhos – Tom Jobim aboard another 707; round trip Tom Jobim – Brasí­lia with four ERJ 145s; and finally Brasí­lia – Confins, in the Boeing 737.

Chaos returned to Brazil’s airports Thursday, with passengers occupying runways and aircraft to protest delayed and cancelled flights. The National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) said 44% of Thursday’s 1,227 scheduled flights were delayed by more than an hour and more than 40 flights were cancelled.

ANAC blamed bad weather for the delays Thursday. President Lula, after holding an emergency meeting in Brasí­lia, said passengers need to be respected.

For the past three months air traffic has been in chaos with controllers conducting a work slowdown following a midair crash in September. The situation was exacerbated by the December 5 failure of the communications system in the Brasí­lia control tower that halted traffic at three airports.

Tempers flared Thursday in the capital Brasí­lia where a family protesting the delays stood on the runway in pouring rain. In the northeast provincial capital of Salvador dozens of passengers stormed an airplane, after waiting for hours at the gate. Rio de Janeiro’s Santos Dumont airport started off the day with a power failure.

The work slowdown by air traffic controllers followed a midair crash above the Amazon in September that led a Boeing 737 to go down, killing all 154 people on board. Afterward, controllers instituted a strict adherence to aviation regulations, such as observing flight limits and times between landings and takeoffs, to draw attention to their working conditions.

The controllers charge that their workloads are too great, they are underpaid and have too few staff as investigators look into whether controllers’ actions played a part in Brazil’s worst airline disaster, in which a Gol Airlines passenger plane crashed after clipping a private executive jet.

In early December, more than two months after the crash, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, the two American pilots of the US executive jet, who successfully made an emergency landing, received permission to leave Brazil. They are under suspicion of contributing to the crash of the Boeing.

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