Business Aviation Gets Drawn Into Political Protests
The wave of protests that has rocked Brazil since June has included opposition to government spending on airports, the blocking of airport access as a way to get attention, and also complaints by the aviation community about government failure to address its needs. In preparation for the 2014 soccer World Cup, stadiums have been built or renovated all over the country, and investments have been made in transportation infrastructure, including airports. The airport investment, however, is a longer-term need, as projected World Cup traffic is merely a blip in underlying demand in commercial aviation that is already seeing double-digit growth rates annually.
One of the common themes has been protest against corruption, and in Brazil there is a long-standing public assumption that any large public works project includes an element of corruption. That’s given rise to so many time-consuming bureaucratic safeguards that a special law was passed to suspend some checks for projects associated with the World Cup, to allow anything at all to be accomplished.
After 5,000 people blocked access to São Paulo’s Cumbica Airport in a protest against corruption some passengers walked several miles on foot to make their flights. Brazilian airline TAM dealt with the road blockade by filling an Airbus with flight crews at Congonhas Airport and ferrying them 17 miles across town to Cumbica.
On July 23, in Rio de Janeiro, the planned privatization of Galeão Airport, formally called Tom Jobim International Airport, provoked a protest from squatters living in the area of a projected third runway. The same day access to the capital Brasilia’s main airport was blocked by participants in an allegedly corrupt investment scheme unhappy that it had been shut down.
Also on July 23, Brazil’s National Civil Aviation Movement, (MNAC-Movimentação Nacional de Aviação Civil) met with the national civil aviation agency ANAC’s ombudsman in Goiânia, to present a list of 30 complaints from pilots, from other aviation workers, from aircraft owners and from maintenance shops.
Days earlier, over 100 business aviation pilots had participated in a peaceful protest at Goiânia’s Santa Genoveva Airport, some wearing wigs and clown noses and blowing whistles. Some had pictures of Alberto Santos Dumont, whom Brazilians firmly believe invented the airplane, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. Another sign had a Darth Vader helmet labeled “ANAC”.
One of the principal complaints is the delay in renewing pilots’ certificates. Even when pilots arrange check flights 90 days before their annual license renewal, sometimes ANAC does not process documents in time, and the pilots are unable to work. Lawyer and aviation law professor Georges Ferreira puts part of the blame on understaffing. “ANAC is operating with only 50 percent of the personnel it needs,” he told AIN.