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PERU’S FAILED AIR SAFETY PRACTICES CLAIM MORE VICTIMS AT NAZCA

At 11:30 yesterday morning (February 25), seven more people died as a result of
Peru’s failure to enforce its own air safety laws.

This was the third major incident (and the second with fatalities) involving planes
belonging to Nazca Airlines (or its predecessor, AeroIca) in recent months. In April
2008 a plane belonging to AeroIca crashed in Nazca due to mechanical failure,
leaving five French tourists and the Peruvian pilot dead. Instead of having his
airline shut down pending investigation, as required under law, AeroIca owner
Franklin Horler managed to get a name change and an operating license approved
by Peru’s Ministry of Transport in record time. In November 2009, the same plane
involved in yesterday’s crash (coincidentally, flown by the same pilot) made a
miraculous forced landing on the PanAmerican Highway after suffering mechanical
failure. On that occasion Horter’s spinmeisters tried to put the blame on pilot error,
claiming the pilot had allowed the plane to take off with insufficient fuel.
Investigation ultimately proved otherwise.

This time his PR rumormongers are blaming the crash on wind shear. One
competitor in the Nazca tour market, Julian Palacin, the owner of AeroCondor,
discounts the possibility of heavy wind shear occurring. “The Nazca air field has
never been closed due to weather factors”, stated Palacin, who is also the
Chairman, Sergeant at Arms and sole member of Instituto Peruano de Derecho
Aerio. “Weather conditions were absolutely perfect for flying,” he added, “…there
was no wind problem at all.” What else would you expect to hear from another
owner of Nazca tour planes? Palacin’s position may also explain the source of
rumors on news programs last night that the accident was due to the pilot suffering
a heart attack (sure, like the scene had been fully inspected, permission given to
remove the bodies some 300 miles to Lima and autopsies conducted, all within ten
hours). Pilot error by another airline would not affect his profits, whereas localized
wind shear effects or the failure to conduct safety inspections would certainly
impair his own business.

Peru’s leading expert on aviation issues, aviation attorney Victor Girao, had this to
say regarding the crash:
“The most telling aspect is that the plane nose-dove into the ground. From
the normal flying height of 500-800 feet for these tour planes, the only way for a
plane to nose dive like that would be equipment failure, perhaps something like
loss of flap or aileron control or similar.” Himself a career pilot (international
commercial heavies: 737s and 747s), the president of the Peruvian Pilots
Association and the author of several investigative books on high-profile crashes in
Peru (El Ultimo Vuelo de Faucett, Cae Avion FAP and others) he discounted the
theories being bandied about by owners, “Wind shear could have forced the plane
straight down, but not 500 feet. Even if it had, the plane would have descended to
ground on a level path. The same if the pilot had a heart attack; by dead stick the
plane would have sunk straight down, not in a nosedive. Even though it is way to
early to tell given all the paperwork and legal procedures involved just in moving
the cadavers, which permission requires the personal presence of a government
attorney, it may be possible that the pilot had a heart attack, but only as a result of
an equipment failure throwing the plane into an irrecoverable spin.
“Also, the plane was carrying a total of seven people, the pilot plus six passengers.
These Cessnas are configured for a maximum of six people. While probably not a
major factor in this crash, this is typical of the owners’ refusal to follow safe
procedures, and the government failure to take an interest in what is going with
these planes, despite the numerous fatalities.”

The failure to conduct legally mandated safety inspections has long been the bane
of aviation in Nazca, which includes a fleet of some forty ancient planes in service
at any one time. Together with the ages of the planes involved (the Cessna
involved in the latest tragedy was in service for more than thirty years, and was far
from the newest of Horter’s airplanes) and the lack of maintenance by shoddy
shoestring operators, tourists entering planes to overfly the lines of Nazca may just
be embarking on one of the most hazardous occupations in the world. This is
further compounded by Nazca’s location near the sea, which gives any aircraft
operating there an extraordinary exposure to the effects of harmful salts on
essential plane parts.

Nor are these types of incidents limited to small planes. Chilean carrier LAN Peru
has had an inordinate number of aborted takeoffs or forced landings due to
equipment failure, many based on defects as patently obvious as unsafe tires. It is
hard to think of anything on the type of heavy planes flown by LAN Peru that would
be easier to observe, note and repair than defective tires, with the possible
exception of attempting to take off with a wing missing. Even for airplanes, tires are
about the cheapest equipment to change. Yet with all these problems due to
unsafe tires, can you imagine the conditions of the mechanical parts on these
planes?