Brazil: The Brazilian Airports, The Consequences Of Lack Of Structure, And The Liability Issue

With the huge sports events hosted by Brazil getting closer, one issue has been constantly discussed in the media and attracting most of the population's attention: the lack of structure of Brazilian airports and its consequences on the day-to-day routine of all those resorting to this means of transportation.

Many are the problems associated with that issue, such as delays in departures of domestic and international flights, baggage loss or damage, among others. These problems have stirred up battles between passengers and airline companies and, consequently, have prompted the discussion on the civil liability for damages caused to consumers. Those litigation have significantly increased the number of cases pending in the Brazilian courts and ended up generating a climate of mistrust and instability between airline companies and passengers.

Part of those structural problems were brought to light at the time of the 2006 tragedy, when a Gol Airlines plane collided with an executive jet causing the death of 154 people. That tragedy was followed by an accident with a Tam Airlines plane in July 2007, when, at the exact moment of the landing, the plane did not succeed in decelerating and collided with Tam's building. Added to that, now, the National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) is engaged in a series of discussions and attempts to change the rules, intending to improve airlines' services time and establish rules on civil liability issues.

When making an in-depth analysis of this issue, it is possible to observe, however, that the problem of the lack of structure in airports has been dragging for years and substantially affecting Brazil's air transportation sector and tourism. Considering all the issues raised above, a question remains: after all, who is liable for the problems faced by consumers? The responsibility for the management and maintenance of all Brazilian airports rests with the Federal Government assisted by the competent agencies and their agents. Nonetheless, it is a plain fact that the Government has not been performing its responsibility satisfactorily.

In this context and considering the content of article 21, item XII, letter "c" of the Federal Constitution, it is possible to state that the Federal Government, manager of the Brazilian aviation system and airport infrastructure is undoubtedly liable for most of the problems involving airline companies and passengers at both the legal and administrative levels.

The lack of airport structure is painfully experienced by passengers and airline companies in their day-to-day routine and may be exemplified by the distribution of service counters; distribution of conveyors at check-in desks and arrivals baggage carousels; runways in disagreement with safety rules and standards; radar "blind spots"; reduced number of air traffic controllers in operation; few parking spaces at the parking lots; bad access to the airports, to mention just a few problems.

In view of such, would it be correct to hold airline companies indiscriminately liable for the inconvenient caused to consumers? There is no doubt that airline companies depend on the good operation of the air traffic control and airport infrastructure to fully perform their activities. Thus, in case of any damage resulting from the lack of a proper airport infrastructure, the liability should be placed on the Federal Government. This is so because those events represent circumstances entirely disconnected to the airline companies services and, as a consequence, the argument of defective services is improperly raised, considering the provisions in article 14, par.3, of the Consumer Protection Code.

There is an urgent need to reformulate the Brazilian airport structure, so that airline companies may be able to fully perform their activities and be only held liable for mishaps caused by failures exclusively attributable to them. Our country has one of the highest airport charges worldwide and, by the way, in view of this scenario, doubts arise as to the destination of the sums collected. It is important to point out that the Brazilian air sector and the demand for its services have been increasing exponentially: in January 2014 only, ANAC recorded a 7.6% growth in the demand for domestic flights. Hence, the airport restructuring and the pertaining investments -- covering radar and air traffic control systems and enlargement of the entire structure needed to serve passengers -- are indispensable to revert the current scenario.

Most certainly those measures would mitigate future damages to passengers as well as benefit airline companies. Furthermore, any discussion on the civil liability for such harms would be more easily settled and airline companies would no longer be held liable for events entirely beyond their control. In a nutshell, the number of claims brought to the courts would reduce, the air transportation structure would improve and Brazil's tourism would receive a boost. All parties would win, especially Brazil's economy and image!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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