Lawyers for two American pilots who were flying a US-bound Embraer Legacy 600 involved in a mid-air collision with a Gol Boeing 737-800 in 2006 over the Amazon forest will appeal a guilty charge and sentence handed down by a Brazilian court on 16 May.

All 154 passengers and crew on the Gol 737 were killed after a head-on collision between the two aircraft at 37,000ft (11,285m) left the Boeing out of control. The Legacy pilots were able to land the damaged new business jet, which they were ferrying back to the US, at a nearby military air base.

Though the pilots were acquitted on five of the six charges, which included inadvertently and negligently turning off the Legacy's transponder; failing to turn on the aircraft's traffic and collision avoidance system (TCAS) and not implementing lost communications procedures, they were convicted of failing to notice a cockpit indication that TCAS system had been inhibited. Lack of TCAS protection left both aircraft with only see-and-avoid capabilities at very high closure speeds, with neither aircraft attempting a last-minute course change before the collision.

 legacy gol

The judge sentenced the pilots to 4 years and 4 months community service to be served in the US, presumably in relation to a Brazilian consulate or embassy, says Joel Weiss, the pilots' attorney in the US.

Weiss says the sentence also includes a suspension of the mens' pilots licenses during the 52-month period, but it is unclear if that is to apply to flight in Brazil or elsewhere or whether the court has the power to enforce the action. Both pilots are today employed as commercial pilots, says Weiss, adding that convictions in Brazil are not typically carried out until the appeal process is completed.

"This single count guilty verdict is in error, and we will certainly appeal," says Weiss. "It is based on a misunderstanding of the pilots dialogue in the cockpit in American idiom, which was 'lost in translation', and inadequate consideration of an expert report we submitted on this issue."

Harsher results could come in the imminent sentencing of Brazilian air traffic controllers involved. The US National Transportation Safety Board, which consulted in the investigation, had found that pilots had been following controllers' directions when the collision occurred. A Brazilian investigation blamed controllers as well as the Legacy pilots.

"The loss of effective air traffic control was not the result of a single error, but of a combination of numerous individual and institutional [air traffic control] factors that reflected systemic shortcomings in emphasis on positive air traffic control concepts," the NTSB had stated in its 2008 report on the accident.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news