David Learmount/LONDON

South American air-traffic control (ATC) has been labelled as inadequate by the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA). The Federation plans to mount a campaign to pressurise national governments into taking action to improve the situation.

IFALPA is becoming increasingly vociferous in its criticism of regions which fail to maintain adequate safety measures, having successfully spotlighted Africa's ATC dangers. The pilots' group says: "We are not easing up on Africa-[but] we are now focusing our attention on South America because of its problems."

Speaking at the UK Royal Aeronautical Society flight safety conference in London on 3 February, IFALPA's Peter Quaintmere said: "ATC personnel are poorly trained, underpaid and lack the necessary equipment to do their jobs in most of Africa and Latin America. Brazil is considered to have one of the better ATC systems in South America, yet it is estimated that 70% of controllers there [have to] work two jobs. Recently, a pilot reported that the driver of the crew transport between the airport and the hotel [in Brazil] also worked the night shift as an approach controller."

IFALPA presented the conference with a frightening example of Argentine ATC, while emphasising that the country had not been "singled out". On 16 August, 1997, the pilots of an Avianca Boeing 767 and an Aerolineas Argentinas Airbus A310-300 executed bad-weather missed-approach procedures at Ezeiza Airport, Buenos Aires, before diverting to their designated alternates, for which the forecasts and reported weather were adequate. On final approach, the Avianca pilot was told that the alternate airport had been closed for some time because of bad weather and that the instrument landing system was unserviceable.

The unserviceability had not been reported. Then the controller cleared the Avianca flight to a third airport, which was closed. Luckily, another pilot who knew of the closure heard the transmission, and warned the Avianca pilot. When the diverted flights finally landed, the Avianca aircraft had 15min fuel left and the Aerolineas flight 6min.

IFALPA also says that the authorities in many South American countries threaten pilots with the "loss" of their flying medical category or with legal action, to prevent them reporting infrastructural deficiencies.

This is also true of the pilots who carried out the diversions described, according to the Federation.

Source: Flight International