Air charters by companies not authorized to perform them, private aircraft making flights for payment, or authorized charter operators advertising flights on a Part 135-compliant aircraft and the client finding a different, non-compliant aircraft when he reaches the ramp are all part of the “pirate” charter problem in Brazil.
In February journalist Ricardo Boechat died when a helicopter crashed following an engine malfunction. The aircraft, hired by the organizers of a convention he’d just addressed, was not qualified for charter operations, though the Brazilian Aeronautic Registry (RAB) showed it was licensed for “special air services,” meaning it could perform aerial photography, but not carry passengers.
Shortly after, ANAC released the beta version of its “VoeSeguro” or “FlySafe” app, which allows a user to input a company name or aircraft tail number and receive yes or no answers to two questions: is the aircraft or company authorized to fly charters, and is it authorized to perform medical flights? The first version was unreliable and hard to navigate: one major operator was listed as having no aircraft at all, for example. The app has since become more streamlined and effective. The simple input “lider” produces the name of Lider Taxi Aéreo, the affirmation in green that it’s in good standing (“regular”), and a “Detalhes” button when clicked details the Lider charter fleet by number of passengers each aircraft can carry and if it can perform aeromedical transport.
Piracy in Aviation will be a subject of discussion on Wednesday at LABACE. Panelists will include Marcelo Lima, ANAC manager of inspection who commands a network of 200 agents spread around the country; Renato Hamilton Souza Rodrigues, coordinator of intelligence; and Luciana Ferreira da Silva, responsible for the RAB, which like the VoeSeguro app has been showing improvement. On Thursday, a talk on “Clandestine Air Transport (TACA): Criminal Discussions” will be delivered by federal judge and ex-accident investigator Marcelo Honorato, author of the massive reference Crimes Aeronáuticos. AIN has interviewed Judge Honorato in the past and the talk should be illuminating.
While major efforts are being made, pirate air charter is a problem entrenched in culture and in geography. São Paulo has one of the world’s largest helicopter fleets, and up to about a decade ago, the annual Formula 1 race was the helicopter event of the year, with a portable ATC tower set up at the raceway. Hundreds of helicopters carried charter passengers to the raceway, and only dozens of them had all the proper paperwork, a pattern that persisted year after year.
Another tactic employed by ANAC is high-profile enforcement. Charter flights are commonly employed for big-name entertainers, often arranged by a local show promoter concerned with profit margins. Publicly grounding a pirate charter and leaving a celebrity stranded in the boondocks is a sure and inexpensive route to media coverage.
If unauthorized flights can take place in plain sight, what about the country’s backwaters? Two hundred agents for a country the size of the continental U.S. is not very many. In vast tracts of the Amazon pilots commonly fly to uncertified airstrips (flight plans are falsified) because they are the only airstrips available. Enforcement is not easy, and eliminating illegal charters isn’t easy, but authorities are making the effort.