An international pilot’s association urged Brazil on Friday to give up criminal investigation into a deadly mid-air collision last year involving two U.S. pilots and allow technical experts to probe the catastrophe.
"The bottom line is they've got the cart in front of the horse on this," said Gideon Ewers, spokesman for the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations.
"If they're serious about improving air safety in Brazil, they've got to wait for the (technical) report and swiftly apply any recommendations made by it."
The mid-air collision between a GOL Boeing 737-800 and an Embraer Legacy executive jet last year placed the spotlight on problems within Brazil's air transport system. The Boeing crashed into the Amazon jungle, killing all 154 people onboard, but the business jet landed safely.
Brazil's air traffic control problems were further highlighted in July, when a TAM Linhas Aereas SA Airbus crashed into a warehouse in Sao Paulo, killing 199 people.
The Legacy's two American pilots - Joseph Lepore of Bay Shore, New York, and Jan Paladino of Westhampton Beach, New York - and four Brazilian controllers face charges in a criminal case in connection with the accident despite the fact that a probe by Brazil's air accident investigation body has yet to publish its findings into what caused the disaster.
"A Federal Police investigation running in parallel with the independent accident investigation ... risks obscuring the benefits of a proper investigation," said a statement from the pilots' association. "Accordingly, IFALPA calls on the Brazilian government to suspend the legislative inquiry and the Justice Ministry to adjourn criminal proceedings."
The International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers also has criticized the police probe.
U.S. and Brazilian officials say the Legacy's transponder and its collision-avoidance system were not functioning at the time of the crash, and that this went unnoticed by its American pilots.
Since then, however, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has warned that pilots flying Embraer Legacy executive jets could inadvertently switch off the transponder when placing their feet on a footrest directly below the instrument panel.
The warning makes no mention of the fatal collision in Brazil, but notes that the pilot's left shoe could accidentally touch the switch controlling both instruments and switch them into "standby" mode without the crew's awareness.