The Bolivian government has temporarily suspended charter carrier LAMIA Bolivia's air operator certificate and the top officials of the country's aviation regulators, following the fatal LAMIA Bolivia crash in Colombia on 28 November.
Bolivia's minister of public works, communications and transport Milton Claros announced the suspensions at a press conference in La Paz on 1 December. Bolivian authorities will investigate how LAMIA Bolivia was awarded an AOC in 2015.
The government has suspended Cesar Varela, director of Bolivia’s civil aviation authority DGAC and Tito Gandarillas, head of the Airports and Air Navigation Services Administration (AASANA).
The suspensions will be effective while the investigation proceeds. In addition, the government has suspended Gustavo Vargas Villegas, director of DGAC's aircraft registry, who happens to be the son of LAMIA Bolivia co-owner and chief executive Gustavo Vargas Gamboa.
“We are not accusing anybody or anticipating any conclusions," says Claros. "We just want to ensure an independent investigation process."
The suspension of AASANA's top official comes after a Santa Cruz airport-based employee from the agency was quoted by Bolivian media as saying that she had repeatedly rejected the flight plan filed by the ill-fated flight's crew due to the insufficient range of the aircraft. The crew had wanted to operate the British Aerospace Avro RJ85 on the flight from Santa Cruz to Medellin, which is just under the operational range of the jet.
Miguel Quiroga, the flight's captain who is also a co-owner of LAMIA Bolivia, had reportedly pressured the employee to accept the flight plan.
Media reports say an amended flight plan, which included a refuelling stop, was subsequently accepted by another AASANA employee. It is not known why the flight did not make the stop while en route to Medellin from Santa Cruz.
The aircraft crashed south of Medellin into a mountainous region, killing 71 people. Six people survived.
The jet was LAMIA Bolivia's only in-service aircraft at the time of the incident, after the DGAC had rejected the maintenance reports of the carrier's other two Avro RJ85s on the day of the crash.