FAA rejects bid to revoke licenses of 2 American pilots involved in 2006 Brazil plane crash

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bid to revoke licenses in Brazil crash rejected

NEW YORK — The Federal Aviation Administration has rejected a request by two Brazilian congressmen to revoke the licenses of two American pilots involved in a 2006 plane crash in Brazil.

In a letter dated April 27, the FAA said there was insufficient evidence to take action against pilots Joseph Lepore of Bay Shore, N.Y., and Jan Paladino of Westhampton Beach, N.Y.

Their Embraer Legacy jet, operated by ExcelAire Service Inc. of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., collided over the Amazon with a Boeing 737 operated by Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA on Sept. 29, 2006. The 737 crashed in the Amazon jungle, killing all 154 people aboard.

“I am deeply unhappy and surprised with the negative response given by the Federal Aviation Administration,” Brazilian Congressman Milton Monti said in a statement Thursday. “The information we delivered to the American authorities had irrefutable proof of the negligence and incompetence of the American pilots.”

And Dante D’Aquino, attorney for the Association of Relatives of Victims of Gol 1907, complained to Brazil’s O Globo newspaper on Wednesday that the FAA gave no explanation for its decision.

“The negative answer, cut and dried, as it was given, is an affront to Brazilians and to the victims’ families,” he said, adding he’ll take the case to the Interamerican Court of Justice.

But Joel R. Weiss, a lawyer for the two pilots, said the FAA acted appropriately.

“The request to pull the pilots’ licenses was an utterly partisan and inappropriate request,” Weiss said. “The pilots violated no rules whatsoever.”

Weiss added, “The bottom line is this accident was only caused by one thing: Brazilian air traffic controllers put two competent flight crews on a collision course. The trial evidence is going to bear that out.”

In December 2008, a Brazilian Air Force report found that the two pilots might have contributed to the crash by inadvertently turning off the plane’s transponder and collision-avoidance system.

But the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board blamed the collision mostly on systematic shortcomings in Brazil’s air traffic control system.

The crash was Brazil’s worst air disaster until a jet ran off a slick runway less than a year later at Sao Paulo’s domestic airport and burst into flames, killing 199 people.

A criminal case against the pilots has been under way in Brazil for three years. A civil case was brought by the families in New York but the court ruled the case should be heard in Brazil; the families are appealing.

Lepore still flies for ExcelAire while Paladino works for American Airlines.

Associated Press writers Tom McElroy in New York, Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo and Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.

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