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Viewing cable 06BRASILIA2315,

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06BRASILIA2315 2006-11-05 12:12 2010-12-21 07:07 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Brasilia
VZCZCXRO9868
PP RUEHRG
DE RUEHBR #2315/01 3091230
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 051230Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY BRASILIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7201
INFO RULSDMK/DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION WASHDC
RHMFIUU/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEANHA/FAA WASHDC
RUEWMFU/TSA HQ WASHINGTON DC
RUWDQAB/NTSB WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRI/AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO 3256
RUEHSO/AMCONSUL SAO PAULO 8515
RUEHRG/AMCONSUL RECIFE 5774
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 4389
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 5902
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 6572
RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 5763
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 3230
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 3989
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 3490
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ 4964
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 2022
RUEHPO/AMEMBASSY PARAMARIBO 1172
RUCPDO/USDOC WASHDC
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BRASILIA 002315 

SIPDIS 

TSA FOR VICKI REEDER, SUSAN HASMAN 

SIPDIS 
AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES PASS TSA ATTACHE JOCHOA 
FAA FOR C. TERE FRANCESCHI 
CA FOR OVERSEAS CITIZENS SERVICES 
DOD FOR OSD 
NTSB FOR JOHN CLARK, BOB MACINTOSH 

SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: N/A 

TAGS: EAIR OTRA CASC BR

BRAZIL: CHAOS IN AIRPORTS NATIONWIDE AS AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ENGAGE IN WORK SLOWDOWN 

1. (SBU) Summary: Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 1 and 2, were two particularly bad days to be an airline worker or passenger in Brazil. The national holiday on Nov. 2, start of a long weekend for many travelers, saw frayed tempers and more than one fracas in airports throughout the country as flights were cancelled or severely delayed, sometimes by more than 20 hours. According to several media accounts, air traffic controllers (ATCs), frustrated by ongoing human resource issues that have percolated to the surface since the Gol flight 1907 crash in September, have slowed work rates even further in protest of what they see as egregious hours and overall "inhumane" working conditions. The Gol crash has caused 10 Brazilian Air Force (FAB) ATCs who were on duty at the Air Defense and Air Traffic Control Center (CINDACTA-I) in Brasilia at the time to be put on administrative leave, initially stated for psychological evaluation. Indeed, ATCs' workload has increased in quantity over the past few years without commensurate increase in staffing. The situation has been complicated by a police investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Gol crash, which could in theory put these suspended ATCs in jeopardy of criminal charges should they be shown to have been grossly negligent in executing their duties. The FAB currently is blocking the police from taking depositions from the suspended ATC staff. The potential criminal investigation by federal police of these suspended ATCs--an investigation that is currently being blocked by the Air Force--is a likely contributing factor to the crisis. Military sources tell us, however, that FAB controllers, while working slower, are merely sticking to the 14-aircraft-per-ATC, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standard. The Embassy has issued a warden message for all U.S. citizens in country advising them of potential travel delays, and regional travelers should be made aware of the situation. End Summary. 

BY THE NUMBERS 

2. (U) More than 600 flights on Thursday, November 2 were delayed, or canceled altogether, as airports around Brazil grappled with the ATCs'"work-to-rule" campaign. The Brazilian Air Force, which oversees the controllers, intervened after confirming at around 3 AM that the ATCs, most of whom are active duty Air Force personnel, had increased the time between takeoffs from the normal interval of three minutes between flights to 30 minutes. This created a cascade effect as flight after flight was delayed; chaos ensued after the normal shift change for controllers, the hour at which air traffic intensity increases. The Air Force called in 149 controllers to work as an emergency measure, and under penalty of prison for insubordination. Of the 149 controllers called in at 5:30 AM, some were allowed to depart at 10:00 a.m., after replacements were confirmed. 112 worked in shifts of eight hours to try to regularize flights in the CINDACTA-I air traffic control region, which monitors the areas of Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais, through which 85 percent of air traffic passes. 

SHIFTING THE BLAME 

3. (U) According to the press, Commander of the Air Force General Luiz Carlos Bueno said that by the afternoon, air traffic control was back to normal, and any further delays could not be attributed to the system. "There is now not a single restriction. If there is a delay, it is not because of air traffic control, it must be a problem with the airlines," he affirmed. Nonetheless, the Brazilian media reported that the chaotic situation continued throughout the day. Air traffic was, in effect, paralyzed. As an example, a flight from Aracaju airport in Sao Paulo, which was supposed to have 

BRASILIA 00002315 002 OF 003 

landed at 8:30 PM on Wednesday, only landed at 5:00 PM on Thursday. 

PASSENGERS REACH THE LIMITS OF THEIR PATIENCE . . . 

4. (U) Passengers physically revolted, in some instances, against the delays and lack of communication by the airports and airlines. In Confins Airport in the state of Mato Grosso, about 35 passengers tried to invade a plane, and were only contained through Federal Police action. In Rio, clients partially destroyed a Gol Airlines counter at Tom Jobim airport. In Porto Alegre's airport in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, police officers were called to control interactions between passengers and airline employees. At least 100 flights were late an average of three hours in Cumbica Airport, in the state of Sao Paulo. Television and print news coverage at each airport showed long lines, crowds of angry passengers at the counters dealing with harried airline employees, and the more passive passengers endeavoring to wait out the situation by sleeping on the floor. . 

. .IN RESPONSE TO BRAZILIAN AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL'S OWN LIMITS 

5. (SBU) Air Force Brigadier Bueno insisted on attributing the air traffic control crisis, which yesterday marked its seventh day, to unforeseen psychological problems suffered by the controllers after the Gol Flight 1907 crash. "The big problem that happened is that a very large quantity [of controllers] felt bad," said Bueno. "People have to overcome psychologically, and not let themselves get down to the point of not working," criticized the general, denying that the threat of penalty of prison could aggravate the situation. "There is no threat whatsoever to anyone, all is being done in according with regulation," he said. Ex-controllers interviewed in Brasilia claimed the contrary, saying there was, indeed, intimidation. Privately, some sources familiar with the system indicate that flight delays have often been blamed on weather or other factors when in fact they are due to air traffic control capacity. 

GOL FLIGHT 1907, OR ENDEMIC PROBLEMS? 

6. (SBU) The impact of the crash of Gol Flight 1907 cannot be overestimated, but neither can the fact that the crash may have resulted, at least partially, due to already existing problems in the air traffic control system in Brazil. Air traffic within the country has increased greatly in the last several years, but the air traffic control system has remained both undermanned and overworked. As per ICAO regulations, ATCs are not supposed to control more than 14 aircraft each, but sources within the system indicate that they are often asked to do more, and work longer hours, due to the lack of human resources. In addition, according to the November 1 press, the Brazilian Ministry of Defense has known since 2003 about the risk that the air traffic control system might collapse, and had recommended shifting some of the air traffic out of CINDACTA I to the other CINDACTAs. No one in an official capacity is publicly saying that the air traffic control system had a role in the Gol crash, but to date, the FAB has not allowed federal police investigators to talk to the suspended ATCs, and privately some theorize that air traffic control was at fault. In addition, focus on the criminal investigation of the Legacy pilots involved in the crash is hampering, or at least complicating, the safety investigation. 

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE? 

7. (SBU) And, while the FAB is now implementing changes, the 

BRASILIA 00002315 003 OF 003 

workload increase has been escalating for at least a few years and its reaction seems more reactive than proactive. For example, only at the end of October, 15 ATCs from other Air Force locations already familiar with the air traffic control center in Brasilia (CINDACTA I) were called to begin a 90-hour requalifying course. They are to supplement the CINDACTA I controller workforce. On November 1, major organizations involved with air traffic issues such as the Airports Authority (INFRAERO), the National Civil Aviation Authority (ANAC), and the National Syndicate of Air Carriers (SNEA), met to discuss rearrangement of commercial air traffic routes to relieve pressure on controllers, airports, and the entire Brazilian air traffic system. On November 6, the FAB is expected to publish requirements for a public exam with the goal to contract more civilian air controllers. If an applicant passes the exam, he/she would then take a course given by the Institute of Aerospace Control (ICEA) in Sao Jose dos Campos, to fill 64 vacancies in Brazil. How long these vacancies have been on the books remains unclear. The FAB has already recalled military ATCs from its retired reserves to supplement CINDACTA I; they are to report to duty after undergoing a requalifying course. All of these efforts, while positive steps, may be too little, too late. 

SYSTEMIC CHANGE AFOOT 

8. (SBU) Another complicating factor is that these changes will actually require a complete overhaul in the system, down to the basic structure. The four regulatory air defense and air traffic control centers, CINDACTAS I, II, III, and IV, which together cover the entire country, have only been manned to date by Air Force active duty personnel. Civilian controllers are very few in number and are in some airport towers, but not in the CINDACTAS, and the military is in charge even at the airport towers. However, the reservists and others being called to re-qualify or newly qualify as ATCs will be considered civilian employees. What kind of internal tensions will be exacerbated or revealed by these shifts is not yet known, or even if civilian controllers will be allowed to work in the CINDACTAs. 

THE VARIG ISSUE 

9. (SBU) Another potential factor includes the collapse of Varig airlines and to date, the lack of full assumption of the former Varig routes, particularly the international ones. Current flights are stretched to full passenger capacity and often overbooked; but increasing the number of flights back up to full frequency would only add further stress to the system. This factor may or may not be being taken into sufficient account along with the deficiencies in the current air traffic control system. 10. (SBU) Comment: How all of the proposed changes and new staffing will impact the future of Brazilian air traffic control, and what potential problems will occur along the way, remain to be seen. For the moment, the crisis has seemingly been alleviated, due to a negotiated settlement reached this morning between the FAB and the ATCs. However, the settlement will take time to implement, and overall this is likely a case of postponement rather than true resolution. End comment. 

SOBEL