Mon, Jul 23, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Brazilian radar system outage disrupts flights

AGENCIES , SAO PAULO, BRAZIL

Radar that tracks planes over the vast Amazon jungle failed for several hours early on Saturday, forcing a dozen international flights to change course, Brazilian airports authority said.

The radar glitch came just four days after the country's worst plane crash and hours after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva promised swift action to improve air safety.

Four American Airlines flights headed for Brazil turned back to Miami, while five US-bound flights were turned back temporarily, before the radar was restored, local media reported.

The flights had to return to Sao Paulo's Guarulhos International Airport while the northern Amazon region's Manaus center went down for several hours, aviation officials said. Flights from Venezuela, Panama and Colombia could not enter Brazil, reports said.

The airports authority, Infraero, said the radar outage forced five other international flights to turn back to Sao Paulo.

More than half of Saturday's 1,282 flights were held up or canceled.

Early reports said a power outage had had caused the radar to fail. But the Brazilian Air Force, which is responsible for the equipment, said it was investigating the possibility that air traffic controllers frustrated by poor pay deliberately shut down the radar system.

On Tuesday, an Airbus A320 crashed at Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport, killing all 187 people on board and others on the ground.

Air travel in Brazil has been chaotic since a Boeing 737 clipped wings with a private jet last September at 37,000 feet over the Amazon jungle. That crash occurred in the region tracked by the radar that malfunctioned.

Air traffic controllers, fearing they were being made scapegoats for the Boeing crash, have staged periodic work slowdowns to protest what they call deficient radar and radio equipment and poor salaries.

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