NATA Summit covers criminalization in aviation

 - June 29, 2009, 11:45 AM

In September 2006, days after an ExcelAire Services Embraer Legacy 600 and a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 collided over the Amazon jungle in Brazil, an international group of flight safety organizations passed a resolution declaring that “the paramount consideration in an aviation accident investigation should be to determine the probable cause of and contributing factors in the accident, not to criminally punish flight crews, maintenance employees, airline or manufacturer management executives, or air traffic controllers.”

As the third anniversary of the accident (which killed all 154 people aboard the airliner) approaches, the Legacy 600 remains parked at a Brazilian air force base where it made an emergency landing, still entangled in legal, political and financial red tape.

At the NATA Air Charter Summit last month in Chantilly, Va., David Rimmer, executive v-p of Long Island-based ExcelAire and a passenger on the Legacy at the time of the collision, told attendees, “I think when we get to criminalization, there’s probably a feeling that it will never happen to you, and that’s a dangerous thought, a threatening thought, because criminalization can happen to anybody at any time.”

Rimmer said the seven people in the business jet were held virtually incommunicado by the Brazilian authorities for the first 26 hours. “We were told this was routine questioning and we would be out of the country shortly,” he said. “We were at our assigned altitude; we did nothing wrong.”

But Brazilian authorities arrested the pilots and confined them to Brazil for 71 days before ExcelAire attorneys and the U.S. State Department were able to engineer their release. Indicted for manslaughter, the two pilots will provide testimony in the upcoming trial from the U.S. through dispositions. Rimmer added that his company is highly selective about where the two pilots fly lest they be subject to extradition by Brazil.