WORLD NEWS: Brazilian minister sacked following air crash

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil yesterday sacked his defence minister, Waldir Pires, the formal head of the country’ s civil aviation system, after last week’ s air crash at São Paulo’ s Congonhas airport.

His government is also considering senior staff changes at Infraero, which is responsible for infrastructure in the Brazilian aviation system.
The death toll from the explosion of the TAM Airbus is likely to pass 200. The crash has released a wave of public anger and provoked chaos in Brazilian airspace.

On Tuesday, more than half of all scheduled flights in Brazil were cancelled or delayed and TAM diverted or cancelled 90 flights. Gol, the discount airline, has suggested that customers wait until the end of the month to make journeys so that schedules can return to normal.

The aviation system has seen radar blackouts over the Amazon, pilots refusing to use the only partly functioning Congonhas, and TAM’ s decision to tell pilots not to land in wet weather. Mr Pires is to be replaced by Nelson Jobim, 61, a former supreme court president, who initially declined the offer but changed his mind after pressure from Mr Lula da Silva.

The octogenarian Mr Pires was widely viewed as handling both the Gol crash in September of last year, in which 154 died, and the more recent TAM disaster poorly, giving bumbling public presentations and taking little concrete action.

“If he’ d had any self-respect, Pires would have resigned last year after the Gol accident,” said David Fleischer, a political scientist at University of Brasília.

Mr Jobim has clout and commands the respect of the president, said Christopher Garman, director for Latin America practice at the Eurasia Group in New York. He should also be more amenable to the involvement of the private sector in the industry, Mr Garman said.

The government is considering involving the private sector in the industry through concessions in Brazil’ s airport infrastructure. José Carlos Pereira, Infraero’ s president, has also been tipped for replacement by local media. His likely successor would be Fernando Bezerra, a former senator and senior member of the PMDB, the biggest party in Congress. Mr Fleischer says Mr Bezerra would be unlikely to be an improvement, with no experience in the sector.

Infraero’ s mistakes are being uncovered as the accident is investigated. Mr Pereira has been damaged by dismissing offers of help from the international aviation community. Infraero declined to use the recommended expensive porous concrete in the renovations recently carried out on the runway at Congonhas in favour of cheaper asphalt. He had reopened the runway in spite of not having installed grooving to help rainwater drain and had not bought modern landing guidance equipment. The government has now announced it will buy this guidance equipment for five of Brazil’ s largest airports.

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