Archive for March, 2007
Just as well I wrote that final sentence on my previous post. Today, a group of Brazilian air traffic controllers have made public a manifest – by necessity, anonymous, as their military status doesn’t allow them to participate in industrial disputes – announcing a hunger strike and demanding immediate action from the goverment to put an end to the crisis. The solution unavoidably involves a transfer to civilian control of air traffic control operations in Brazil (a movement Lula is reluctanct to make, unlike his Argentinian counterpart). The manifest includes two worrying sentences, in capital letters:
“WE DO NOT TRUST OUR EQUIPMENTS. WE DO NOT TRUST OUR SUPERIORS”
This entry was ready for publication when it landed on my desk a recent issue of VEJA magazine with an extensive report on the crisis of civil aviation in Brazil. I thought it would be interesting to add some of the information contained on the report to this entry. A bit of background before a series of funny – if not ridiculous- stories of the crisis in Brazil.
Although the crisis had been brewing for years, its outbreak has a date and a time: the tragic collision a GOL boeing against a jet plane over the Amazon six months ago. Incidentally, six months after the crash, the investigation on the causes of the tragedy hasn’t finished yet, to the dispair of the families of those who died. It would seem air traffic control – run by the Air Force – played an important role on the accident. But one of the investigations is being carried out by the Air Force itself. Many question the impartial nature of the investigation. The investigators have the data recorders, they know why, when, where and how the collision happened. They only have to identify the culprits.
Back to the outbreak of the crisis. During 2006, GOL had mantained an excellent punctuality record of 98%. TAM, of 96%. In November, the indexes fell to 60% and 54%. In December, to 47% and 43%. That is, in December most commercial aviation flights in Brazil took off with a delay of more than 15 minutes.
The crash highlighted the precarious state of the air traffic control infraestructure in Brazil. Military controllers, with very low salaries, deficient training (more than 90% of the controllers are unable to hold a conversation in English), with no labour rights, forced by their superiors to work extra hours, and forced as well to supervise more planes than the limit recommended by international aviation bodies – each Brazilian controller was responsible for up to 20 planes, when the safe limit is 14.
When the controllers began a work-to-rule, the entire system collapsed. The military workforce no longer made up for the deficiencies in infraestructure. While the market grew spectacularly, investments in infraestructure where conspicuous by its absence. In 2000, Brazilian airlines transported 41.7 million passengers. In 2006, 57.6 million.
No other place symbolizes the crisis better than the airport of Congonhas, in São Paulo, surrounding by houses all around and with high rises on the approach route of the planes. Congonhas has an operational capacity of 12 million passengers per year. In 2006, 18.5 million passengers went through the airport.
INFRAERO is the government’s body responsible for the running of the airports. Up to the arrival of Lula to power, INFRAERO was always headed by an specialist on the field. But the policy of giving preferential treatment to allies in exchange for support, a trademark of the Lula administration, meant that INFRAERO ended up on the hands of a corrupt politician. The National Audit Office has found irregularities in almost all the work done on Brazilian airports during the last four years.
The goverment reformed the main terminal at Congonhas (it was inaugurated by Lula, when the work hadn’t been finished yet, shortly before the elections). Unfortunately, the runway was forgotten (no photo opportunities to be had there) and it is now closing for reformation after four serious incidents over the last few months.
Worst was the diversion of funds collected through airport taxes. The money from one those taxes was theoretically destined to be invested on the safety of the air traffic control system in Brazil. The money, paid by Brazilians and foreigners alike, was diverted by the goverment and used to paid the interests of the debt.
And now, on to the funny stories. This week, Congonhas airport (the busiest in the country) had to close its operations for a while as there was a dead pigeon on the runway. Last week, it was a dog on the loose that forced the airport to stop operating. Never mind the infamous three millimeters (height of a coin) of rain that bring Congonhas to a standstill.
The instrument landing system of the airport of Manaus was damaged by thunder in December. It hasn’t been repaired yet.
In the midst of the chaos, the goverment decides to oppose the creation of a commission of enquiry into the causes of the chaos. Furthemore, to the amazement of disgruntled passangers, a new airport tax is announced, to subsidize airlines running loss-making routes in the interior of the country. Up to R$14 per ticket. If the current airport tax is anything to go buy, embezzlement will be the likeliest destination of the money you and I will be forced to cough up. All passengers flying through Brazil currently pay a tax that was theoretically destined to fund the air traffic control system in Brazil. Only after the tragic accident in September it was discovered that the Lula administration had been sistematically using that money for a purpose other than the one intented.
I am reading now that air traffic controllers are threatening to bring Brazil to a halt during the Panamerican Games. The government needs to get their act together now.
I am afraid this will not be the last entry you read on the topic.
The sky seems to be the limit for Brazilian airline GOL. The latest giant step on its continuous expansion is the announcement of the purchase of (the healthy part of) Varig. The move still needs to be approved by the Brazilian government, and for the time being what we know is that both companies will continue to operate separatedly.
I don’t know whether this is good or bad news. GOL and TAM hold now 85% of the market of civil aviation in Brazil. GOL is far less of a low-cost than most people think. Yes, they have amazing off-season promotions (so do TAM), but their average fares are quite similar to those of TAM (as you can see on this blog’s fare check section). While at the same time providing low-cost service. The good news is that it seems there is now a future for Varig – and an end to the endless injection of public money into an ailing company.
The capital of the state of Maranhão, built on an island two degrees south of the equator, does not feature among the top Brazilian destinations, in spite of its declaration by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. The city is a unique example of Portuguese colonial architecture on the equatorial region. If you want to discover a completely different Brazil, a couple of days in São Luís will do no harm at all.
1. HOW TO GET THERE
São Luís is too far away from any other tourist destination. For that reason, the easiest way of getting to the city is by plane. Check flight fares and timetables both with Gol and Tam. You are likely to discover your flight from the southeast region of Brazil to Maranhão will involve a connecting flight in Brasilia.
2. WHEN TO GO
The second fortnight in June is the ideal period to visit São Luís, at it is then when the festas juninas take place. The festivities are one of the most wonderful popular festivals in the entire Brazil. Outstanding within the festas juninas, you’ll find the celebration of the
bumba-meu-boi, typical from the state of Maranhão.
If you can’t make your trip to São Luís coincide with the bumba-meu-boi, then try to choose some dates that will allow you to do a side trip to the awesome Lençóis Maranhenses. The best time to visit the region is the period between June and September.
Heavy rain falls in São Luís during the rainy season, from January to May. And we do mean heavy rain.
3. CAREFUL WITH
The stifling heat all year round. Some shady streets in the historic centre of the city, both day and night. Let your instinct guide you, and always play it safe.
4. WE LIKE THE MOST
The fantastic architecture, the friendliness of its people.
5. WE LIKE THE LEAST
The outrageous abandonment and degradation of the historical heritage; the ubiquitous presence of one of the most powerful families in Brazil.
6. FAVOURITE PLACES
The Projeto Reviver (historic centre of São Luís), the wonderful façade of the Pousada Colonial.
7. PIECE OF ADVICE
- you can’t just go to São Luís and not visit the outstanding Lençóis Maranhenses. Barreirinhas, the town that acts as an entry point to the Lençóis, is just three hours away from São Luís. If you don’t want to do the trip on your own, you will find in São Luís packages with transport and accommodation sorted out for you.
- from São Luís you can do a day trip to neighbouring Alcântara. You just need to take a boat to get you there. Is the sea is rough that day, you’re likely to get seasick.
- São Luís is the Brazilian capital of reggae music, enjoy it!
You don’t need any vaccines if you are visiting São Luís. Yellow fever is an issue on the Amazon region of the state of Maranhão, but there is no yellow fever in São Luís (last case recorded was in 1942). The main health issue is dengue fever. More information on 10 facts about dengue fever in Brazil.
At our Accommodation in Brazil blog you will find a full list of hotels and pousadas in São Luís.
11. WEATHER FORECAST
The weather in São Luís for the next 10 days
Average temperatures and rainfall in São Luís at meoweather.
13. GOOGLE MAPS
Destination: Lençóis Maranhenses
Reviews: Pousada Portas da Amazônia , São Luís
Maranhão, images of a Brazilian paradise
Brazilian videos: festas juninas in São Luís
Brazil in pictures: ceramic tiles of São Luís
Brazil in pictures: scarlet ibis in Alcântara
Doce de espécie
Come the end of the day, and the Quadrado, the central square of Trancoso, that remained deserted during the day, becomes a meeting point for the young of the place, who gather to play their daily football/soccer game.