Blame Game Is On: TAM and Infraero Fault Each Other for Brazil’s Airport Chaos

Infraero, the state-run company that manages the Brazilian airports, and Brazil’s largest airline, TAM, are engaged in a blame game to decide who is at fault for the country’s pre-Christmas airport mess, which left thousands stranded in the airports. 

While TAM says that the main culprit for the problem was Infraero’s communication system, which went down, Infraero denies any responsibility in the incident and says that whatever occurred happened at TAM’s end.

The ANAC (National Civil Aviation Agency), Brazil’s airport authority, is investigating what caused last week’s collapse. Their agents are auditing TAM and other airlines and are supposed to release their findings by Friday, December 29.

Brazil’s Defense Minister, Waldir Pires is not waiting for the conclusion though. After a high-level meeting to address the air crisis, today, he hinted that the government intends to punish TAM for the airports chaos.

Even before ANAC concludes its auditing Pires is already certain that the company overbooked several flights during the Christmas season. "There were serious mistakes. There will be serious penalties," said the minister.

Pires continues at the helm of Defense despite calls from Congress and the media that he be dismissed by president Lula for sheer incompetence. Pires didn’t spell what kind of punishment for TAM he has in mind.

Worried that the present chaos in Brazilian airports will keep gringos away for Carnaval, which starts February 17, Brazil’s hotel industry is gearing up its marketing machine to stimulate domestic tourism. They have been encouraging Brazilians to take the bus and forget the planes for now. 

Alfredo Lopes, the president of ABIH-RJ (Hotels Industry Brazilian Association – Rio de Janeiro) has informed that foreign countries are following what’s happening in Brazil and that tourism operators in France, for example, are  dissuading tourists from traveling to Brazil for Carnaval.

The vice president of ABIH-RJ, Angelo Vivacqua, says that the air bedlam has already caused the cancellation of 10% of year’s end reservations for Rio’s hotels. Still according to Vivacqua, the city’s hotel sector has already lost about US$ 15 million due to the air crisis.

For three times since November, serious trouble in the airports has made air travel a painful ordeal in Brazil sometimes involving 12 hours or more of delays when not outright cancellation of flights, lack of information and lost luggage.

Lopes hopes that despite a drop of about 5%, hotels occupation rate will still be 80%. Rio’s hotels have 27,000 beds available. "We realized the trouble in the airports and started campaigns in Belo Horizonte and São Paulo to encourage national tourism and road transportation. We have contacted travel agents and passed leaflets in shopping malls," he said.

Considering that Rio’s hotels have an average daily rate of US$ 120, ponders Lopes, even a drop in occupancy for two days during the Réveillon (New Year’s celebrations) may mean a loss of US$ 630,000 to hotel owners.

Nationwide, the situation isn’t expected to be better. It’s believed that 60% to 70% of tourists travel by plane in Brazil. The Brazilian hotel industry is forecasting losses surpassing US$ 4 million a day. This doesn’t include all other business sectors dependent on tourism.

Due to the air crisis, the sale of bus tickets has increased 5% this holiday season. 3,160 extra buses were used to meet Christmas traffic. The same should happen again for New Year’s.

The highway patrol has seen a 40% increase in the number of cars on the roads this holiday season. In previous years the boost in traffic when compared to normal days had been between 20% and 30%.

All of this will put an extra load into an already taxed highway system. Travellers should pay attention to potholes, which due to rains, multiply this time of the year.

In Rio, for example, all federal roads are having routine maintenance service to patch holes. This also means that half of the highway is taken by trucks and repairing crews.

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