Argentina’s perpetually-struggling flagship airline took another hit late last week when news broke that two pilots let a stripper operate the throttle while a passenger-filled aircraft was taking off. Victoria Xipolitakis, a famous actress and part-time stripper, took a cellphone video of herself as this took place and later sent it to a local TV channel, where it triggered an uproar.
Mariano Recalde, the head of Aerolíneas Argentinas, announced on Thursday evening that the two pilots had been fired and criminal charges were being brought against them. Furthermore, passengers are likely to demand compensation from Aerolíneas Argentinas for putting their lives at risk by failing to comply with air safety rules.
The nationalized airline has already drawn heavy criticism for gobbling up huge subsidies at an accelerating rate. According to government data, over the first five months of this year the airline received 1.87 billion pesos ($138 million at the widespread black market rate) in federal subsidies, just over twice the amount it received over the same period in 2014. It is alarming that in less than half of the budgeted year, Aerolíneas Argentinas has already blown through two thirds of its subsidy allocation. Mismanagement is often alleged, and now the pilots’ reckless behavior only makes the airline’s reputation worse.
After the outcry, Xipolitakis apologized and said it wasn’t anything intentionally against Recalde. “I didn’t do it with malice or second intentions; I make a reality show out of my life… I didn’t know I couldn’t go into the cockpit. The pilots should have told me not to,” she tweeted. But Recalde’s chances of being elected mayor of Buenos Aires on July 5 have now sunk by association with the scandal-hit airline under his direction. And he is not entirely convinced it was just terrible judgement and negligence on the part of the pilots. Referring to possible political motivations for the incident, he stated “We’re not discarding any hypothesis, it’s really amazing what happened.”
Cockpit safety has since come under scrutiny, and will be enforced strictly. But real structural and financial reforms to the airline are a hot topic — and nothing of the sort is likely to take place until after Argentina’s presidential election in October.