Tue, Jul 24, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Brazilian aviation crisis disrupts flights overseas

AGENCIES , RIO DE JANEIRO AND SAO PAULO, BRAZIL

Brazil's aviation crisis rippled overseas, stranding passengers at several US airports and giving foreigners a taste of the chaos and anxiety Brazilian travelers have felt for months.

Aviation analysts cite factors from political cronyism to chronic underfunding in Brazil's aviation system as possible contributors to two major air disasters in less than a year.

On Sunday, with Brazil still in shock from a jetliner crash last Tuesday that killed nearly 200, the crisis took on international proportions following a major radar failure over the Amazon.

The outage early on Saturday came during peak travel time between Brazil and the US. For nearly three hours, air traffic controllers closed Brazilian air space, diverting almost 20 international flights from airports in US cities including New York, Miami and Dallas. Planes were forced to return to their points of origin or make unscheduled stops as far-flung as San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Santiago, Chile.

"I was on a flight from Miami to Rio on Friday that was turned back and now I'm stuck in Miami until Tuesday night," passenger Lisa White, a geology professor at San Francisco State University, said by phone.

"I know of the problems, I heard about the airline crash in Sao Paulo," she said. "But I'm not nervous, I assume they'll eventually get it together."

An Airbus 320 operated by TAM Airlines crashed last Tuesday at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo, killing all 187 people aboard and at least four on the ground.

The air force blamed Saturday's radar outage on an electrical failure and said it is investigating whether sabotage was to blame. The failure came just hours after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced measures to shore up the country's ailing aviation system.

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