Brazil promises quick solution to aviation crisis

The Brazilian government has promised to deliver by Tuesday a solution to a six-month crisis in the country’s aviation industry.

The crisis came to a head at the weekend with a strike by air traffic controllers that left thousands of passengers stranded.

Conditions at Brazil’s airports began to return to normal on Sunday after scenes of chaos on Friday night and Saturday. SNEA, the airline industry association, said airlines were preparing legal action against the newly formed civil aviation authority (Anac) to recover losses incurred during the chaos. Anac, in turn, said it might take action against the airlines for failing to provide immediate compensation to stranded passengers.

Brazil’s 2,400 air traffic controllers – most of whom are sergeants in the air force – have been protesting in support of claims for better pay and conditions since last September. A mid-air collision that killed 154 people that month exposed severe shortcomings in air traffic control and airport infrastructure.

The controllers are demanding demilitarisation of air traffic control andbetter pay. They also want a new career structure and are demanding that a joint civil and military committee be set up to oversee demilitarisation and to ensure that their demands are met. As sergeants, most air traffic controllers earn be-tween R$1,700 and R$3,700 (US$1,799, €1,347, £914) a month, reaching the top of the pay scale only after decades of service.

On Friday evening, groups of controllers first went on hunger strike and then refused to carry out their duties. The air force command described the action as a mutiny and called for their immediate imprisonment.

But President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, on his way to Washington to meetPresident George W. Bush, intervened. He ordered that the controllers’ demands be met, recognising that Brazil had no reserve controllers to draw on and that im-prisonment would lead to a complete breakdown in the aviation industry.

Lawyers for the air traffic controllers say the government agreed to their main demands in the early hours of Saturday. The demands are in line with recommendations for dealing with the crisis presented in December by a working group set up after the mid-air collision.

The air force itself apparently accepted a change to civilian control at the weekend by announcing that air traffic control was no longer under military command. Officers are reported to have left controllers working unsupervised from Saturday, telling them to work in civilian clothes and, in one case, tearing up their duty roster.

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