If it were not for a high-profile passenger, last Friday’s peripatetic morning flight from Quito to Cuenca would have probably not rated more than a single news headline.
As it was, the incident has resulted in the resignation of the Tame CEO, an examination of airline procedures and protocols, and questions about lack of aircraft navigation equipment.
Flight 173 from Quito to Cuenca was diverted to Guayaquil due to poor visibility early Friday morning. After refueling in Guayaquil, the aircraft made a second attempt to land in Cuenca but the pilot again said visibility did not permit a landing and returned to Quito.
Once on the ground in Quito, after Tame announced that the flight to Cuenca had been cancelled, 32 passengers refused to exit the aircraft. Among them was Fernando Cordero, former National Assembly President and Ecuador Minister of Defense.
In a Tweet from the aircraft, he called the airline’s decision an example of “transportation inefficiency” and questioned the pilot’s decision to divert the second landing attempt. “We could see the Cuenca airport clearly. There was a light haze but that should not stop a landing,” he said.
Cordero was later backed up by Jorge Wated, manager of the government agency that oversees Tame operations. “My question is why the jet did not have the navigational equipment on board that would have allowed it to land,” he said. “Almost all other aircraft have the equipment.”
In a Monday press conference, Tame Airlines employees supported the pilot’s decision to divert the flight and demanded that CEO Christian González be reinstated. A spokesman for the employees said the issue had become political due to Cordero’s presence on the flight.
“The safety of the passengers is the pilot’s first priority and he made a decision based on that,” the spokesman said. “It is not his fault that the aircraft did not have the proximity equipment that would have permitted a landing.”