Latest Casualty of Brazil’s Air Tragedy: the Defense Minister

Brazil's Defense Minister, Waldir Pires It took three full days since Brazil's deadliest air accident for the Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to comment on the tragedy, which he did on a TV appearance this Friday night, July 20.

While most of the nation seems to agree that the country's air transportation is in a state of chaos, the president in his speech to his fellow citizens concluded that the biggest problem the civil aviation has in Brazil now is the Congonhas airport, in the heart of São Paulo city, and the country's busiest.

"Our air system," stated Lula during a radio and TV linkup, "despite the investments we made for the expansion and modernization of almost all the Brazilian airports, is going through a hard time. And its biggest problem today is the excessive concentration of flights in Congonhas. And this is what we need to solve immediately."

Despite the fact that this is the second major accident in 10 months – last September a collision between a small executive jet and a Boeing 737, over the Amazon jungle, killed all 154 people aboard the Boeing – Lula reaffirmed his belief that Brazil's air system is safe.

"The safety level of our air system is compatible with all the international standards," he told Brazilians. "We cannot lose sight of this. My friends, we are working in all seriousness and with serenity, without haste. Seriousness to know truth and serenity not to commit any injustice."

The president used the occasion to once again present the measures that had been announced earlier by Brazil's Board of Civilian Aviation.

"Congonhas needs to abide by even more severe safety measures. It has to be an airport geared to regional aviation and air shuttle. It can't be a flights, connections and stop-overs distribution point anymore," said Lula.

The president also promised to modernize the country's air control, to improve the  National Agency of Civil Aviation (ANAC) and to define in 90 days where a new airport will be built in São Paulo.

And he added: "With the measures I'm announcing today and with other steps the government is going to take in the coming days, I'm sure that our air system will once again be adequate to meet the country's needs.

According to unnamed sources, Lula told his closest aides that Defense Minister, Waldir Pires will get his walking papers in the coming days.

Since the September air tragedy and the ensuing airport chaos, which included work-to-rule campaigns by flight controllers, it has been rumored that Pires, an octogenarian best known for his resistance and exile during the military dictatorship (1964-1985),  would be fired.

This time, however, Pires's political erosion is much more evident. Lula has all but ignored his Defense Minister since the latest tragedy. A Conac (Aviation National Board) meeting scheduled for Friday to discuss the air crisis was transferred from the Defense Ministry to the Planalto Palace, the president's office. Pires wasn't even invited for another high-level meeting on Thursday, which was also put together to deal with the tragedy.

Another one who should lose his job is José Carlos Pereira, the president of Infraero (Brazilian Company of Airport Infrastructure), Brazil's air authority. 

According to the president, his aviation top brass, have lost the little prestige they still had after the latest plane crash, which killed the 187 aboard and at least 3 people on the ground. The search for bodies is still going on, however.


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