Ryanair incident in Belarus calls international flight conventions into question

Nations, states and associations around the world swiftly condemn Belarusian authorities and launch investigations

Earlier this week, the world witnessed some unprecedented maneuvers by Belarusian authorities to hijack a plane on its flight between Athens, Greece and Vilnius in Lithuania to land at an airport in Minsk, Belarus. The commander of Ryanair flight 4978 was informed of an on-board bomb threat after the flight was interrupted and intercepted by a Belarusian warplane and forced to land in Minsk. Although the bomb threat turned out to be false, the captain had no choice but to comply and land on command the Ireland-based commercial aircraft (the aircraft itself was registered in Poland).

The reason later emerged – a 26-year-old Belarusian journalist was on board, someone who angered state officials and was on a terrorist watch list by this government for any possibility of apprehension. The man had worked for the Telegram channel NEXTA, which had broadcast information and images of mass protests during the August 2020 elections in Belarus. Activists accused longtime Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko – dubbed Europe’s “last dictator” – of determining the election outcome.

Reports claim the flight entered a small corner of Belarusian airspace, signaling the military to its daring actions. However, it is believed that the target – Roman Protasevich – was identified once booked and boarded the flight. There are reports of KGB spies on board this flight. Protasevich was located, arrested and removed from the flight and, after about seven hours on the tarmac, Ryanair continued with the rest of the passengers to their final destination.

Belarus’ action on Sunday has far-reaching implications for travel. Major airlines such as Lufthansa already ban all flights involving Belarus or its airspace. Governments, including the United States, were quick to denounce Belarus’ actions, although the consequences are unclear. The International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, told news agencies that the hijacking “may be in violation of the Chicago Convention”, which was signed in 1944 and created ICAO, as well as the rules relating to airspace rights and air travel and safety. .

The International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency (Shutterstock / Balkans)

In a movement of solidarity with the European Union and other relevant governing bodies, the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations (IFALPA) and the European Cockpit Association (ECA) issued a statement echoing the concerns expressed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). concerning the forced landing of Ryanair flight 4978 in Minsk, Belarus, on May 23, calling the events “unlawful interference, bearing all the characteristics of a state hijack”.

“We call for an independent investigation into this event and an appropriate immediate response from the safety and security authorities. This unprecedented act of unlawful interference will potentially upset all assumptions about the safest response to in-flight bomb threats and interceptions … Any military intervention against a civilian aircraft constitutes a deliberate danger to the safety of passengers and aircraft. ‘crew. IFALPA and ECA urge States and the international aviation community to investigate and take prompt action against similar occurrences. We also ask the airline to provide full support to the pilots and cabin crew on board, both during the future investigation and with regard to their physical and mental well-being after such a difficult and stressful event.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary called on Belarusian authorities’ decision to hijack a plane flying over its territory to arrest a dissident journalist on board a “state-sponsored hack.”

The United States joined other countries in calling for Protasevich’s immediate release and condemned the “forced hijacking” of the flight.

“Given the indications that the forced landing was based on false pretenses, we support the earliest possible meeting of the board of the International Civil Aviation Organization to consider these events,” said the secretary of Antony Blinken state in a statement.

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