Work on Sao Paulo airport halted, threatening World Cup deadline
SAO PAULO May 9 (Reuters) - Work on an airport outside Sao Paulo was partially suspended on Friday because of unsafe working conditions in the rush to prepare for the World Cup, all but guaranteeing the private operator would miss a crucial deadline for a new terminal.
Viracopos airport, controlled by Brazilian concessionaries UTC and Triunfo and France's Egis Airport Operation, risks a fine of up to 170 million reais ($77 million) for missing a Sunday deadline to deliver the terminal.
Federal prosecutors said work involving heights and heavy machinery overhead would be halted temporarily due to dangerous movement of heavy materials, reckless driving around elevated platforms and misuse of key safety equipment.
"We can tell they are rushing against the clock and they are doing several different things at once in a disorderly way," said prosecutor Mario Antonio Gomes, who accompanied a visit by workplace safety watchdog CEREST.
The consortium responsible for renovating Viracopos, which generally comments on operations instead of individual investors, said it follows all legal safety requirements and it would make necessary adjustments to protocol.
The order by CEREST to suspend work added to concerns about Brazil's last-minute scramble before the World Cup kicks off in less than five weeks. Preparations for the tournament have been beset by delays, cost overruns and broken promises.
Three stadiums are still unfinished, along with work on airports in most of the dozen host cities. Major public transport projects have been scaled back or scrapped. The death toll at work sites keeps rising.
The eighth worker to die at a World Cup stadium was electrocuted on Thursday while helping install a communications network at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba.
At Viracopos, two workers have died building the new terminal, one from a fall and another buried by debris, according to federal prosecutors.
The airport's operator said on Wednesday that the new terminal was 92 percent done.
Dozens of delegations from competing countries will fly through Viracopos during the World Cup. The first national team booked at the airport, Ivory Coast, arrives on June 6.
Sao Paulo's main international airport, known as Guarulhos, looks ready to begin operations at its new international terminal by the Sunday deadline, but few passengers will notice.
The new international terminal is set to open at a fraction of its eventual capacity, handling just one in four foreign flights - less than 10 percent of overall traffic at the airport. The automated baggage check and immigrations systems originally promised will not be ready for the World Cup.
($1 = 2.22 Brazilian reais) (Editing by Grant McCool)