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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 August 2007, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Challenging times for Brazil's airports
By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo is once again open for business - but two weeks after the air crash which claimed almost 200 lives it appears a much more subdued place.

A plane at Congonhas airport
Congonhas airport is trying to get back to normal

Some of the flights that normally leave from here have been transferred to Sao Paulo's international airport.

At the check-in desks for Tam, the Brazilian airline involved in the crash, the normal queues have been replaced by small huddles of people, and public announcements appear few and far between.

It seems public confidence will take a while to return as well.

One uneasy Canadian traveller told me he was philosophical about travelling to Brazil.

"Some people actually, when I was in Toronto, actually cancelled their flights to Brazil because of what took place. But if it is going to happen, it is going to happen. So I thought, I am going to go regardless."

Not surprisingly then, these are challenging times for Brazil's airline companies.

Less than 12 months before the crash at Congonhas, a Gol passenger plane and an executive jet collided over the Amazon - all 154 on board the airliner were killed.

There have been other problems - such as the recent radar shutdown over the Amazon which caused a number of international flights to turn back to the United States.

An organisation for international air traffic controllers even suggested Brazil needed outside help to resolve its problems, an offer that caused a significant amount of irritation.

Public anger

Professor Jorge Eduardo de Medeiros of the Department of Engineering at the University of Sao Paulo says Brazil's skies are safe for passengers - but public spending priorities in the past were often wrong.

Demonstration at Congonhas airport on 29 July 2007
Relatives of the crash victims are angry with the authorities

"I think Congonhas is a good example of inverted priorities," he said.

"They started with the air passenger terminal, the car parking facilities, and at the very end they improved the runways, improving the safety area of the airport.

"The airside was left to the last priority."

For the relatives of those who died at Congonhas these are difficult days.

On Sunday they joined in prayer at the crash site, sharing their grief, and leaving floral tributes.

Their demonstration also laid bare deeply felt anger over a tragedy that many in Brazil believe could have been avoided.

Some in the crowd held up banners denouncing corruption and "assassins", while others repeatedly called out a demand for respect.

The cause of the crash itself is still being investigated. At first there was much comment about the state of the runway especially in wet weather.

Now media reports in Brazil suggest a lever to control engine speed may have been in the wrong position.

Lula criticised

A transcript detailing the final words of the pilots read out at a Congressional hearing revealed their desperate attempts to control the plane as it veered off the runway.

Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
Lula should have come here to Sao Paulo the day after the accident, meeting the victim's families, going to the airport
Rogerio Schmitt, Tendencias Consultoria

A union representing pilots says no-one should come to conclusions at this stage.

In recent months it has certainly seemed the government's initial response to the overall air crisis was slow, and at times clumsy and ill judged.

Ministers seemed to almost to outdo each other in coming up with tactless remarks about the delays and inconveniences endured by the public.

Even in the aftermath of the crash at Congonhas, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, normally associated with displaying quite a common touch, did not publicly address the nation until three days later.

"I believe the government's reaction was too little, too late," says Rogerio Schmitt from Tendencias Consultoria, a consultancy firm in Sao Paulo.

"Lula should have - the day after the accident - he should have come here to Sao Paulo, meeting the victim's families, going to the airport, everything the new minister is doing right now.

"He didn't do that, he almost hid himself in Brasilia. Nobody saw him for three days."

Restoring confidence

But with the appointment of the new defence minister to oversee air safety, a plan of action appears to be taking shape.

Brazil's Defence Minister, Nelson Jobim
Defence minister Nelson Jobim was appointed a week after the crash

Nelson Jobim is certainly the man with the most daunting task in Brazil at the moment - faced with the job of restoring confidence both here and abroad.

The president has made clear the minister has a clean sheet of paper, and can spend what it takes to get the job done.

After two major tragedies the public mood is behind him and the political will to get results seems finally to have caught up as well.

A cynical public will undoubtedly reserve their judgement until they see the end result.

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