Brazil Crash Prompts Call for Improvements

In response to the September midair collision over the Amazon that claimed 154 lives, the National Transportation Safety Board yesterday recommended improvements in the collision-avoidance system on jets to make warnings more noticeable to pilots.

While investigations in Brazil with assistance of the NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration are ongoing, the board said it was clear the collision-avoidance system, known as a TCAS, on the Legacy jet owned by ExcelAire of Ronkonkoma was not operating and its pilots, both from Long Island, were unaware of it. It called the current system where pilots are warned only by fixed white lettering on the cockpit display inadequate.

The NTSB urged the FAA to require audible warnings, more noticeable visible warnings such as a flashing colored message, and that pilots be required to acknowledge the warning. The FAA, which has 90 days to respond, said it would study the recommendations.

"Letting the pilots know that the TCAS system is inoperative would be a safety improvement," said John Cox, an air safety consultant.

Before the Boeing 737-800 operated by Gol Airlines collided with the ExcelAire jet flown by Joseph Lepore of Bay Shore and Jan Palladino of Westhampton Beach, the NTSB said "the only notification the pilots likely received ... was a small, static text message on the pilots' flight display that read 'TCAS OFF' in white lettering. Using only static text messages ... is not a reliable means to capture pilots' attention because these visual warnings can be easily overlooked ... "

The board noted that "notifications for other critical aircraft system failures that could result in catastrophic consequences generally use both aural alerts and conspicuous visual alerts" with colored flashing lights or text messages. These warnings also require the flight crew to acknowledge the message.

ExcelAire and Uniondale attorney Joel Weiss, who represents Lepore and Paladino, said the report "makes sense as a safety recommendation." But it does not address the possibility that the TCAS did not work and also did not indicate that to the pilots.

The families of those killed have filed three lawsuits against ExcelAire, the pilots and Honeywell, which manufactured the TCAS system on the Embraer plane. Lexi Hazam, an attorney with a San Francisco firm representing families, said "this dovetails with the allegations in our complaint." The suits allege the TCAS model was defective because it could have been placed inadvertently into standby mode without the pilots knowing it.

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