Lula announces aviation changes

Brazilian president makes first comments since country's worst-ever air crash.

    Family members and friends of the victims protest in Porto Alegre [AFP] 
    However Lula and his government have faced criticism over their handling of the aftermath of the crash after a close advisor was filmed apparently celebrating reports suggesting the crash was caused by mechanical error and not government negligence.

    Government criticism

    The incident followed a flurry of complaints that Lula has been absent during the crisis in an attempt to avoid jeopardising his high approval ratings.

    In Friday's televised address Lula said said the country's aviation system did meet international standards.

    "Our aviation system, in spite of the investments we have made in expansion and modernisation of almost all Brazilian airports, is passing through difficulties. Its biggest problem today is the excessive concentration of flights to Congonhas."
    Silva announced a series of measure to remedy the situation including limiting the number of flights and restricting the weight of planes travelling into Congonhas.

    However Teresa Bo, Al Jazeera's correspondent, says Lula's speech, lasting barely five minutes, was too little too late for many Brazilians.

    191 people died in Brazil's worst
    ever air disaster [AFP]

    Bo said, however, it was too early to tell whether the affair would have an adverse effect on Lula's popularity but that the video of the president's adviser had shocked many people who thought the government's priorities should have been with the victims' families rather than on politics.

    Marco Aurelio Garcia, a foreign policy advisor to the president, was shown on national television on Thursday making obscene gestures after news that pointed to problems with the braking system of the Tam airlines A320.

    Garcia later apologised, saying the gestures were a private expression of indignation at attempts to blame the government for the accident.

    Reverser link

    Lula also announced plans to construct a new airport in Sao Paulo, whose location would be chosen within 90 days.

    Earlier on Friday, Brazil's cabinet-level civil aviation council announced 10 measures to reduce traffic at Congonhas.

    The measures included banning charter, cargo flights and executive jets at Congonhas and gave airlines 60 days to stop using the airport as a hub for connecting flights.

    Silva's administration has been accused of failing to deal with long-standing air travel safety problems, including deficient radars, underfunded air traffic control systems and a short, slick runway at Brazil's busiest airport.

    All 187 people aboard the A320 and at least four on the ground died when the plane raced down the runway, skipped over a crowded highway and exploded in a fireball that was still smoldering three days later.

    A television report on Thursday said that one of the jet's two thrust reversers had been deactivated four days before the crash.

    The reversers throw the force of the jet engines forward to aid deceleration during landings, and while it's not unusual for twin-engine planes to use only one when the other is unserviceable, Brazilian aviation consultant Elias Gedeon said "it is possible that the thrust reverser could have played a role".

    Brazilian, French and US investigators say it's too early to say what caused the crash. Recorded cockpit conversations are being analysed in the US and first results are not expected until next week.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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