Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Hazards of Flying in Argentina

article from November 22, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

In spite of Aerolíneas Argentinas’ excellent safety record of never having had a fatal crash, flying domestically or internationally on the nation’s flag carrier is becoming more hazardous, as is flying in the country in general. Two very recent revelations and developments are contributing to my doubt that safety is paramount in the country’s airspace as well as on board the national airline, which was renationalized by the Argentine government in 2008.

I have flown on the airline on several occasions and always had a satisfactory experience, with both the cabin crew and the flight deck crew being very professional. But in recent years, with the government being the owner of the carrier, except for the 0.6% that is owned by the ten thousand plus employees, the carrier has been bleeding millions of dollars out of the federal government. The latest reports indicate that the airline is losing US$2 million per day. As a result, the maintenance of the aircraft, particularly its fleet of long-range Airbus A-340s, has been substantially neglected.

In the most recent revelations, it has been disclosed that two of the Airbus A-340s in operation have exceeded the design life of important parts of the landing gear by as much as 16,000 hours. The parts in question are the pistons on the landing gear, which have functions similar to what shock absorbers do on cars. Considering how easy it is to lose control of a car with a damaged or worn-out suspension, this can easily be extrapolated to an aircraft weighing in at about 275 tons. Both of the aircraft affected, LV-ZPO and LV-ZPJ, are A340-200 models, having served first for Cathay Pacific Airlines and Philippine Airlines before being acquired by Aerolineas in 1999. My concerns regarding the neglect of important maintenance for 11,000 hours on the former and 16,000 hours on the latter aircraft leads me to question the maintenance procedures for their other 40 units.

An official of the airline, technical director Anibal Videla, contacted EADS, the maker of the aircraft, in order to get a waiver for this most important safety-related item on the aircraft. EADS refused to do so, suggesting an immediate grounding of the units. 

In spite of the fact that the airline has about the same number of aircraft as it had in 2001, the number of employees has risen by 52%, increasing overhead tremendously. But being owned by the national government, many of the positions are filled by ñoquis, so called because these employees supposedly only show up on payday to collect their money. Argentinean tradition calls for a robust ñoqui dinner on the 29th of the month, just before payday, with a bank note under your plate that is folded into a knot and put into your billfold afterwards, ensuring that you will have the same banknote as well as the money to scrape up another inexpensive ñoqui dinner at the end of the following month. Maybe the good luck charm works – after all, ¡todo es possible en Argentina!

The other item giving me pause is that La Presidenta Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has ordered the armed forces to take over the functions of the striking air traffic controllers. Argentina’s skies are now being controlled by military personnel, who according to a lawsuit filed late last week, have been out of the towers for 2-8 years.

All this makes my very happy that I am not expecting to fly in or out of the country for a while, and that I am not expecting to have loved ones on any flight.

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza

[Image of Aerolíneas Argentinas Boeing 737-200Adv LV-ZXU via Wikipedia]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.