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Brazilian Air Traffic Strike: Blogs Debate Confusions, Commands and Concerns from the Past

Aerial Blackout
Aerial Blackout weblog banner

Last Friday, at the same time Lula was in the air traveling to the US to visit President Bush, a huge crisis was developing back in Brazil. Air traffic controllers had started a strike protesting working conditions, paralyzing flights across the nation and bringing the “Aerial Blackout” crisis to a climax. The problems were started last year with the disintegration of Varig, Brazil's one-time flagship airline, and signs of persistent failure in air traffic control in the southern and central regions of the country were already being noticed by the media in March. It only got worse after the Sept. 29 collision which became Brazil’s worst air disaster, as the controllers started to perform slowdowns that brought delays in airports all over the country.

The mounting pressure over the issue last week led Lula to express his personal astonishment with the lack of a precise diagnostic about the problem by the ones in charge, and to demand solutions. What he could not imagine is that on that same week, he would have to handle the crisis personally by the phone from the presidential airplane while leaving the country. When dealing directly with the air controllers on strike, back came the old union leader with the ability to quickly bring the work stoppage to an end. But the deal quickly became an object of debate in the Brazilian blogosphere.

A greve dos controladores de vôo criou um paradoxo. Vitoriosos em acelerar a desmilitarização do setor, não conseguirão celebrar a vitória. Pela lógica política, aliás, terão que ser exemplarmente derrotados, por dois motivos. Primeiro, porque a exibição de poder, praticamente parando o tráfego aéreo nacional, tornou-os uma ameaça. Nem que, daqui para diante, passassem a se comportar exemplarmente; nem que suas reivindicações fossem as mais justas. Segundo, porque levaram o governo Lula, por absoluta falta de pró-atividade, a abrir espaço para a volta de um velho fantasma para o setor: o poder dos sindicalistas versus o da hierarquia militar.
Os Controladores e a PolíticaLuis Nassif Online

The air traffic controllers strike has created a paradox. Although victorious in accelerating the sector's demilitarization, they won't be able to celebrate the triumph. According to the logic in politics, there are two reasons why they [their poor example] will have to be defeated. First, the power demonstration of nearly paralyzing the national air traffic has turned them into a menace. [This is true] even if from now on they start behaving in an exemplary fashion, even if their claims are among the fairest. Second because they led Lula's government, by its own inertia, to open space to the comeback of an old ghost to the sector: the power of the unions vs. military hierarchy.
Politics and the controllersLuis Nassif Online

A transferência dos controladores de vôo civis e militares para os quadros do novo órgão eliminará o grande entrave para a concessão de aumentos salariais à categoria. Hoje, 80% dos cerca de 3.000 controladores de vôo em atividade são militares. São de primeiro a terceiro sargento. Reajustando-lhes os contracheques, o governo criaria uma defasagem em relação aos demais sargentos da tropa. Um problema que será contornado com a criação da carreira vinculada ao órgão civil de gestão do tráfego aéreo.
Novo órgão civil fará o controle do tráfego aéreoJosias de Souza

The transference of the civil and the military air traffic controllers to the new agency will eliminate the big constraint to raise the category's wages. Today, 80% of the 3,000 active air traffic controllers are from the military. They are all sergeants, 1st to 3rd level. If the government had raised their wages while still in the military it would create a disparity in relation to the other sergeants in the troop. This is a problem that will be fixed with the creation of the new career line tied to the civil air traffic managing agency.
New civil agency will take care of the air traffic controlJosias de Souza

Se Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva avaliou que o governo precisava ceder aos controladores de vôo, deveria (ou o vice, que estava no exercício do cargo) ter chamado o comandante da Aeronáutica e ordenado o recuo. Se o comandante se negasse a cumprir a ordem, deveria receber voz de prisão. Mas, como o ministro encarregado de informar aos sargentos que o governo iria se render foi o do Planejamento, de duas uma: 1) Lula contornou a linha de comando; 2) Lula mandou o comandante da Aeronáutica recuar e ele se recusou a fazê-lo. Como o comandante da Força Aérea Brasileira (FAB) não está preso e continua no cargo, suponho que a segunda hipótese está afastada. A questão é saber por que Lula ignorou o comando da Aeronáutica. O que você acha?
Uma dúvida (31/03)Blog do Alon

If Lula determined that the government had to give in to the air traffic controllers, he (or his Vice President, who was officially in the post) should have called the Air Force commander and ordered the draw back. If the commander had denied to follow, he should have received order of imprisonment. But, as the minister in charge of informing the sergeants that the government would concede was the one of the Ministry of Planning, then we are left with two options: 1) Lula has bypassed the chain-of-command; 2) Lula has ordered the Air Force to draw back and the commander has declined to do it. As the Brazilian Air Force Commander is not in jail and still is occupying his post, I think that the second option is out. The point is to know why Lula has ignored the Air Force Command. What do you think?
A doubt (31/03)Blog do Alon


There is a general perception
that the Brazilian air traffic controllers were really working in bad conditions, and some voices blame the military as the main obstacle to the resolution of the crisis due to its resistance in relinquishing control of the country's air traffic system. In order to explain their radical move, the air traffic controllers’ syndicate published an open letter on its website exposing what they see as an unsustainable situation. Lula's critics are ready to prove that he is the one to blame for this federal mess.

A convicção, não só entre militares, de que os controladores de vôo brasileiros devem obedecer a ordens marciais de trabalho e não têm direito a serem ouvidos, muito menos de verem as suas reivindicações atendidas, pode adiar desnecessariamente a solução da crise do setor aéreo deflagrada pelo acidente com um avião da Gol em setembro, que resultou na morte de 154 pessoas. Rebeliões, greves brancas e operações-padrão, como têm ocorrido no Brasil, são comuns em diversos países. Entretanto, aqui são tidas como “traição e baderna” (conforme a revista CartaCapital de 13 de dezembro de 2006) pelos militares responsáveis pelo setor. Assim, um trabalho que é crucial e extremamente delicado é tratado como uma marcha para a guerra, sem espaço para recuos nem discussões, sob pena de prisão, rebaixamento ou expulsão… A própria Aeronáutica reconhece que o total de controladores no Brasil deveria ser duas vezes maior. As estimativas mais otimistas recomendam um aumento de um terço no total de profissionais. O salário, entre R$ 1.700 e R$ 3.700, teria que ser de R$ 10.000, segundo estudo do Ministério da Defesa (ainda de acordo com a CartaCapital). O equipamento é antiquado e de manutenção deficiente. Mas a hierarquia militar não comporta a discussão nem o encaminhamento desses problemas.
Controle militar dificulta solução da crise aéreaCarlos Drummond – TerraMagazine

The conviction that the Brazilian air traffic controllers should be constrained to a military regime of work and that they don't deserve the right to be heard, much less to have their claims settled, exists not only among the military. This approach can unnecessarily postpone the solution to the crisis in the aerial sector which was started by the accident with the Gol airplane in September, resulting in the death of 154 passengers. Rebellions, slowdowns such as the ones occurring in Brazil are common in many countries. However, here it is seen as “treason and disorder” (according to Carta Capital in December 13, 2006) by the military in charge of the sector. Thus, a crucial and extremely delicate job is treated as a march to war, with no space for jibes or arguments, under the risk of imprisonment, downgrading or expulsion…. The Air Force admits that the total number of controllers in Brazil should be two times higher. The more optimistic of the estimates suggests that the number of professionals be increased by one third. The salary, which stands between R$ 1.700 (US$ 820) and R$ 3.700 (US$ 1,800) , should be around R$ 10.000 (US$ 4,870) according to the Ministry of Defense. The equipment is old and the maintenance is deficient, but the military hierarchy does not allow the debate or the resolution of these issues.
Military control is not helping find solutions to the air crisisCarlos Drummond – TerraMagazine

A quem é atribuída as paralisações do tráfego aéreo em virtude de fenômenos naturais como chuvas e nevoeiros? . Quem, ao tentar expor as verdadeiras situações do tráfego aéreo nos livros de ocorrências dos órgãos operacionais, sofre perseguições da chefia militar? . Quem é acusado de insubordinado e sindicalista ao executar uma operação de segurança que consta em norma internacional de aviação civil? . Quem é o principal suspeito ao ocorrer panes no sistema de comunicação, queda de energia ou overbooking de empresas aéreas? . Quem é o profissional obrigado a monitorar vôos e milhares de vidas acima do recomendado pelas normas de segurança? . Quem é o militar aquartelado sem o direito de protestar pela falta de operadores? . Quem é o profissional que tem sua dispensa médica ou férias interrompidas pela convocação de oficiais superiores a fim de suprir a falta de operadores? . Quem passa os dias trabalhando com equipamentos obsoletos e prejudiciais à saúde? . Quem tem de se desdobrar para prestar serviço seguro quando ocorrem falhas de comunicação nas chamadas zonas cegas? Para todas estas perguntas, uma resposta nos parece comum: o Controlador de Tráfego Aéreo. Passados seis meses de crise, não há nenhuma sinalização positiva para as dificuldades enfrentadas pelos Controladores de Tráfego Aéreo. Ao contrário, as mesmas agravaram-se.
Manifesto dos Controladores de VôoSindicato Nacional dos Trabalhadores na Proteção ao Vôo

To whom is attributed the air traffic problems due to natural phenomenons as rain and fog? Who suffers persecutions from the superiors in the command chain when trying to expose the real situation of the air traffic control in the record books of the operational units? Who are the ones accused of being rebels or syndicalists while executing security operations prescribed by international civil aviation rules? Who are the main suspects of all the pains in the communication systems, energy shortages and air company overbooking? Who are the professionals forced to monitor flights and thousand of lives above the work levels suggested by the security norms? Who are the military personnel who get lodged in their units with no right to protest against the shortage of controllers? Who are the military personnel who have their medical dismissals and vacations interrupted by request of superior officers in order to resupply for the lack of operators? Who are the ones working with obsolete and harmful to health equipment? Who has to work hard to safely control the air traffic when failures in the system generate blind zones on the screen? To all those questions, there is only one answer: the Air Traffic Controller. After six months of crisis, there is no positive sign to [address] the Air Traffic Controllers issues. On the contrary, the problems are getting worse.
Air Traffic Controllers ManifestoSindicato Nacional dos Trabalhadores na Proteção ao Vôo

O governo Lula, mais uma vez, conseguiu superar a demência tucana. A crise aérea se arrasta há meses sem ter sido tomada nenhuma providência. 154 pessoas morreram na queda do Boeing da GOL; ontem, segundo a Anac (Agência nacional de Aviação Civil), 18 mil pessoas não puderam embarcar. Hoje de manhã, Luiz Fernando Mosca, de 54 anos, diabético e com sitomas de crise de asma, morreu de infarto depois de passar a noite com a família no aeroporto esperando um vôo de Curitiba para Porto Alegre.
Greve = BandidagemA Nova Corja

Lula's government, one more time, has surpassed the dementia of the ‘tucanos’ [from PSDB party]. The air crisis has developed in the last months without any action taken [in response]. 154 people died on Gol's Boeing crash; according to Anac (Civil Aviation National Agency), 18 thousand people have not been able to board. This morning, Luiz Fernando Mosca, 54, with diabetics and symptoms of asthma crisis, died of heart attack after spending the night with his family at the airport waiting for a flight from Curitiba to Porto Alegre.
Strike = BanditryA Nova Corja


Although the quick action
to neutralize the strike was a necessary move, many bloggers are commenting that the acceptance of all the air traffic controller's demands by the government will create a dangerous precedent. Some commenters were quick to mention the similarities among this situation and the crisis between former president João Goulart and the military, which led to the coup in 1964 and the many years of dictatorship in the country. Coincidence or not, last Saturday (March 31) was the day of the 43rd aniversary of the coup which some in the military still call ‘the revolution’.

Os controlodares aéreos estão com a faca e o queijo nas mãos! … Em Brasília eles iniciaram uma greve de fome por essas melhorias, o comando da aeronáutica decidiu prendê-los, uma vez que estão sujeitos ao severo regulamento da mesma que proibe esse tipo de manifestação por melhores condições de trabalho, nós do Exército não somos tão burros assim, quando queremos algum aumento salarial, mandamos nossas mulheres fardadas com nossos uniformes fazerem manifestações nas ruas e panelaços em frente aos palácios de Brasília! Pois bem, eles foram aquartelados, o que quer dizer, presos mesmo no interior dos quarteis ou das bases aéreas. Mas o presidente Lula, num momento raro de sensatez, mandou soltá-los imediatamente! Para evitar confrontos desnecessários, segundo a secretaria de comunicação da presidência. Vale lembrar ao Ilustrísssimo presidente, que em fins de 1963 e início de 1964, João Goulart incetivava os sargentos a prenderem os generais, almirantes e brigadeiros, a marinha aderiu, a aeronáutica ficou voando e observando e o Exército tomou as rédeas da situação e deu no que deu! Como ontem comemoramos mais um aniversário da revolução, nada melhor que começar outra por esse dias de abril. Seria o Abril Preto, em homenagem ao apagão aéreo!!!
Controladores AéreosConsiderações Finais sobre Tudo

The air traffic controllers are with the knife and the cheese in their hands!… They've started a hunger strike in Brasilia in favor of their claims and the Air Force command decided to jail them, as long as they are under the strict rule that prohibits those kind of demonstrations for better working conditions. We in the army are not so dumb. When we want some wage raise, we send our wives to the streets to make the demonstrations in front of the palaces in Brasília! Well, they were lodged in their units, which means that they were imprisoned inside their division, or aerial base. But President Lula, in a rare moment of lucidity, ordered their immediate release! The Presidenial Communication Secretary informed us that the move was taken to avoid unnecessary confrontation. It is worth reminding our President that in the last days of 1963 and early 1964, João Goulart used to stimulate sergeants to put generals, admirals and brigadiers in jail. The navy adhered, the air force stayed on air, and the army took the reins of the situation, and the results are known to all! As we celebrated yesterday one more anniversary of the revolution, nothing better than starting a new one in those days of April. It would be the Black April, in homage to the Aerial Blackout!!!
Air Traffic ControllersConsiderações Finais sobre Tudo

Ora! Só existe perdão de punição se alguém está punindo e devemos lembrar que Lula mandou “resolver” o problema até antes d e 1º de abril. Acredito que a arrogância que ele tentou mostrar, atiçando as autoridades superiores aos controladores de vôo a bater doído neles, é o que levou ao motim de ontem. O governo no final cedeu e ficou quietinho, e Lula aparece como o salvador, informando que pediu para “retirarem” a punição. Conclusão desta história é uma só: Lula é fraco e o PT não tem credibilidade para mandar em ninguém. Por outro lado, ao fazer acordo para transferir os controladores para a área civil, criou um problema que ele não perde por esperar com a Aeronáutica e os militares (quem viver verá).
Lula não aguentou e cedeuBlog do Maidana

Well! We only have forgiveness of a punishment if there is someone punishing, and we should remember that Lula has ordered the resolution of the problem to be implemented by April 1st. I believe that the arrogance displayed last week, when he urged the officials to hit hard on the air traffic controllers, was the cause of yesterday's mutiny. The government finally conceded and kept quiet, at the same time that Lula appears as the savior, informing us that he asked for a suspension of the punishment. The conclusion to this story is just one: Lula is weak and the PT does not have credibility to coordinate anything. On the other side, while making a deal to transfer the controllers to the civil sector, Lula has created a problem with the Air Force and the military (those who live will see it).
Lula could not hold, and concededBlog do Maidana

Existe até um lado positivo na desautorização do comandante da Aeronáutica. Ainda que não tenha tido esse objetivo, a decisão de Lula quebrou de vez o tabu do fantasma militar numa hora simbólica: véspera do aniversário de 43 anos do golpe que instaurou a ditadura de 1964.
De Novo??? Não, Agora Não!!!, de Kennedy Alencar – Tico e Teco Brasil

There is a positive side in the suspension of the orders of the Air Force Commander by Lula. Although not having this as a goal, Lula's decision definitely broke the military ghost taboo in a symbolic date: on the eve of the 43rd aniversary of the coup which installed the 1964 dictatorship.
Again??? No, Not Now!!!, de Kennedy Alencar – Tico e Teco Brasil


As usual
, bloggers from left and right present interestingly disparate approaches and interpretations to the current events.

Lula voltou antes da hora da reunião de Camp David, com Bush, para desmilitarizar o controle de tráfico aéreo e resolver a crise nos aeroportos brasileiros. Não acredito na última teoria de conspiração que está circulando em Brasília: o ministro da Defesa deixou a crise na aviação civil agravar-se ao máximo – desde o acidente sobre a Amazônia até o caos e morte registrada na guerrilha dos aeroportos – para ter condições políticas de desmilitarizar o controle de tráfico aéreo. Inclusive ficará como um órgão civil debaixo do controle do Ministério da Defesa. Mas o principal que meus amigos controlados de vôo me contaram é a “ataulização salarial” que eles exigem. Um dos amigos era sargente da Aeronáutica, psicólogo e virou controlador para manter a família. Outro é da parte administrativa, há semanas vem concordando que o problema final era de dinheiro, faltava o ministro da Fazenda dar a ordem ao Planejamento para o Tesouro soltar dinheiro. Mas sem desmilitarizar teria que aumentar o soldo de todos os militares – aí a grita da Fazenda é maior ainda. O jeito foi deixar o ministro tocar o assunto com sua experiência política. Aparentemente agora vai resolver, desmilitarizando e concedendo reajuste de salários aos controladores que têm nossas vidas nas mãos. Foi isso que aconteceu ou a coisa correu de outro jeito? PS – Presidente Lula não é salvador da pátria, mas alguém tinha que fazer o serviço de tirar o último reduto das mãos dos militares que remontaram o país durante os 21 anos de ditadura.
Desmilitarizar controle áereo e aumentar salários resolve a crise dos aeroportosJoão Arnolfo

Lula has returned from the meeting with Bush in Camp David in order to demilitarize the air traffic control and settle the crisis in the Brazilian airports. I don't believe in the latest conspiracy theory circulating in Brasilia, which says that the Defense Minister has let the civil aviation crisis develop to a climax — from the accident in the Amazon to the chaos and death in the guerrilla airports — in order to build the political situation needed to proceed with the demilitarization of the air traffic control. It will stay as a civilian unit under the Ministry of Defense. But the main thing my friends controllers told me about was the “wage adjustment” they seek. One of my friends was an Air Force sergeant, psychologist, and has turned into a controller… Another one is from the administrative sector, and he has agreed that in the end, the problem is money. The Ministry of Finance would need to authorize the Treasurey to open the safe. But without demilitarizing they would have to raise the wage of all military — and this is something the Ministry of Finance would not agree to do. The solution was to let the Defense Minister take care of the situation with his political experience. It seems that we will see a solution now, with the demilitarization of the sector and with a raise in the salaries of those who have our lives in their hands. Was that the way things happened or otherwise? PS – Lula is not the savior of the country, but someone needed to finish the job of taking back to civilians the last outpost of the military who restructured the country during the 21 years of dictatorship in Brazil.
Demilitarizing and wage raise will solve the airport crisisJoão Arnolfo

A coisa é bem mais séria do que parece, e o que está na nota é a pura expressão na verdade. Atenção: não foi o governo que decidiu criar o órgão civil para controlar o tráfego aéreo, não. Foi a Aeronáutica que rejeitou o dito-cujo. Foi mais ou menos o seguinte: “Se é assim, então não temos mais nada com isso”. A Força teve o juízo que faltou a Lula. Não lhe restava outro caminho: ou admitia a quebra da disciplina, da hierarquia, e engolia um motim, junto com um documento desaforado que expressava desconfiança nos superiores, ou fazia o que fez: “Então essa área não é mais de nossa responsabilidade”. Foi também uma saída mais ou menos honrosa para Juniti Saito, comandante da Aeronáutica. Ele havia determinado a prisão de 18 militares, e a medida foi suspensa por Lula. A Força abre mão do controle, mas ainda insiste nas punições. Os controladores já falaram que, nesse caso, retomam a greve — justamente no feriado da Páscoa. Eis aí uma obra acabada de Lula e seu ministro da Defesa, Waldir Pires. Em reportagem no Estadão deste domingo (clique aqui), lê-se: “(…) os oficiais consideram que se abriu um precedente perigoso para as três Forças. Na opinião de outro militar, melhor seria que o governo se reunisse com o Alto Comando da FAB e revisse a decisão de não punir os rebelados. ‘O que eles (os controladores) fizeram é crime, previsto no Código Penal Militar.’ Um oficial do Exército foi mais longe: ‘Você sabe que os nossos pilares são hierarquia e disciplina. Sessenta e quatro só saiu porque tentaram quebrar esses dois pilares’”.
Controle Civil não foi decisão do governo; a Aeronáutica é que quis se livrar da parte podre; crise militar continuaReinaldo Azevedo

The case is much more serious than it seems, and the [Air Force's] note expresses the truth. Attention: it was not the government who decided to create a civil unit to control the air traffic, no. It was the Air Force who rejected it. It was something like this: “If this is how things will be, then we don't want to have anything to do with it”. The Air Force had the judgment capacity that Lula lacked. There was no other option left: to admit the break in the chain of command, in the hierarchy, and swallow an uprising along with an uneducated manifesto expressing distrust of superiors; or do as they did: “The sector is not under our responsibility anymore”. It was also a more or less honorable solution for Juniti Saito, the Air Force Commander. He had ordered the imprisonment of 18 military and the order was revoked by Lula. The Force is releasing the control over the system, but insists on the punishments. The controllers already announced that, in this case, they will restart the strike — exactly during Passover holidays. Now behold the finished piece by Lula and his Minister of Defense. In a report in today's Estadão we read: “(…) the officers believe that a dangerous precedent was established for the three Forces. According to the opinion of another military, it would be better if the government could meet with Brazilian Air Force High Command to review the decision of suspending the punishments. ‘What they did (the controllers) is a crime, foreseen in the Military Code’. Another Army officer went further: ‘You know that our pillars are hierarchy and discipline. Sixty four only happened because they tried to break these two pillars'”.
Civil Control was not a government decision; it was the Air Force that decided to get rid of the rotten part; militar crisis goes onReinaldo Azevedo


Amidst all this confusion and uproar
, the larger context is provided by the number of Brazilians who have never had the experience of using an airport and flying in an airplane. These are Lula's crowds, and they are numerous.

Ás vezes até bate uma tristeza… penso: “Nossa, queria ter dinheiro pra poder comprar uma passagem aérea e ir dormir lá no aeroporto… Seria tão bom viver alguns dias sonhando em chegar aos céus…” Que pena que sou pobre… Tenho que me contentar com greve de ônibus e metrô. E devo me dar por satisfeito e levantar as mãos ao céu, porque tem gente que não tem dinheiro nem pra passagem do ônibus e ficam sem greve nenhuma… Coitados. Não sabem o que estão perdendo. Felizes são os que têm grana e podem passar por uma greve de 1ª classe. Que chique! Sortudos.
Nova novela “Crise Aérea Brasileira”Desnome

Sometimes I feel a sadness… I think: “Wow, I wish I had the money to buy an airplane ticket so I could go spend a night of sleeping at the airport… It would be so nice to live some days dreaming about how to reach the skies…” It is a pity that I am poor… I have to be content with bus and metro strikes. And I've got to be happy and thank God because there are people who don't have anything, not even enough to pay for the bus — those are left with no strike at all… Poor ones. They don't know what they are missing. How happy are those who have the money and can go through a first class strike. How chic! Lucky ones.
New Soap Opera “Brazilian Air Crisis”Desnome

3 comments

  • […] Global Voices Online […]

  • There i was, browsing technorati for info tidbits about the air strike (no, not the American one at Iran. Not yet. I am talking about the air traffic controler’s strike in Brasil) when, after reading a lot of cattle dejects about the crisis, i’ve finaly got here. Why is that i always forget that my own brother does the best coverage about brazilian blogosphere one can find? Bad, bad Duende…

    Now, seriously. I’m about to take a flight (i hope) to São Paulo and then to Brasilia, in a few hours. I hope the two flights (and the airport matters in between) take only the regular FEW hours, but i promise to report about my adventures once i get to a computer in Brasilia (if i ever get there alive).

    There is some talk about a new strike, comprising the civilian air traffic controlers. I hope this strike (as well as the American Air Strike on Iran) never happen. All we don’t need is another Aerial Blackout and another War.

  • am air taffic controller in egypt i worked from 2 years as a controller at 6 of october aerodrome i wont to working out egypt for more salery if you have any information about my request plz send me zizosuperman@hotmail.com

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