Focus on safety issues in collision, urges IFALPA

 - November 1, 2007, 6:22 AM

Brazilian authorities should drop their criminal investigation into the deadly midair collision last September involving a pair of American pilots and instead let accident investigators complete their probe.

That was the plea last month from the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), which called on the Brazilian government to return to “agreed international standards and principles in the investigation” of the midair collision between a Gol Airlines Boeing 737-800 and an ExcelAire Embraer Legacy 600.

The September 2006 accident, which killed all 154 aboard the airliner, focused attention on Brazil’s air transport system as well as the Legacy’s pilots, Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino. In a letter to Brazilian authorities, IFALPA said it has “serious concerns” about the government’s criminal indictment and possible prosecution of the pilots and several air traffic controllers. The pilot group said it is also troubled that the legislative inquiry and federal police investigation were conducted before Brazil’s safety board completed its independent technical investigation.

The Legacy pilots and four Brazilian controllers face charges in a criminal case in connection with the accident, despite the fact that the probe by Brazil’s air accident investigation body has yet to publish its findings about the cause of the collision. IFALPA wants the Brazilian government to suspend the legislative inquiry and the Justice Ministry to throw out the criminal charges. IFALPA says Brazil should focus instead on applying “any lessons and recommendations made in the [accident] report that will improve air safety.”

Investigators say the Legacy’s transponder was not providing data to ATC at the time of the collision, a failure the pilots did not notice. Since then, the FAA has warned crews flying the Legacy and its ERJ counterparts to be careful not to inadvertently switch off the transponder when placing their feet on a footrest directly below the instrument panel. The warning doesn’t directly mention the fatal collision in Brazil, but it notes that the copilot’s left shoe could accidentally put the transponder into standby mode without the crew realizing it.

Lepore and Paladino were detained for more than two months in Brazil after their Legacy collided with the Gol jet, which crashed in the Amazon.

The U.S. pilots managed to land their damaged airplane at a Brazilian military base deep in the jungle. Brazil has demanded that the pilots return to Brazil to testify in the case, but they are not compelled by existing extradition treaties to do so and have so far agreed only to provide written testimony.