Belarus engaged in ‘state-sponsored hijacking’ - Ryanair
Airline may avoid Belarus airspace and take guidance from EU safety authorities
Belarusian dog handler checks luggage from Ryanair flight number FR4978 in Minsk International Airport. Photograph: Onliner.by/AFP via Getty Images
Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary accused Belarus of hijacking on Monday, saying the airline was co-operating with international security agencies after the eastern European country forcibly diverted one of its flights.
Belarus sparked international outrage when one of its military aircraft diverted a Ryanair flight heading from Athens in Greece to Vilnius in Lithuania to Minsk, where police arrested dissident journalist Roman Protasevic.
Mr O’Leary said the Belarus actions were “a case of state-sponsored hijacking, state-sponsored piracy” on Monday.
Ryanair subsequently issued a statement calling the incident aviation piracy. “This is now being dealt with by EU safety and security agencies and Nato, ” the airline said. “Ryanair is fully co-operating with them and we cannot comment further for security reasons.”
A Belarus fighter jet escorted the Ryanair Boeing 737 to Minsk on Sunday, claiming there were explosive on board the passenger flight.
Nothing was found on the Irish carrier’s aircraft, but the police arrested Mr Protasevic while his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, was also taken from the flight. Three other passengers also failed to complete the flight to Vilnius.
Other passengers reported that the journalist told them he feared for his life should the plane land in Minsk.
Mr O’Leary said on radio station Newstalk that it was the first time this had happened to a European airline. He added that Ryanair believed there were several KGB agents on board the flight.
He indicated that the airline could avoid Belarus airspace in future, but would be guided by EU safety authorities on this.
Irish Airline Pilots’ Association president Cpt Evan Cullendescribed the incident as “outrageous”. He called on the EU to ban air travel to Belarus until the country pledged not take similar action again.
The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (Ifalpa) and the European Cockpit Association (Eca), of which Ialpa is a member, demanded an immediate international investigation of Belarus.
“Any military intervention against a civilian aircraft constitutes a wilful hazard to the safety of passengers and crew,” they warned.
The pilot groups and Eurocontrol, the organisation of European air traffic control authorities, accused Belarus of breaching the Chicago Convention, the international deal governing civilian air transport.
German airline Lufthansa and Dutch carrier KLM confirmed that they were reviewing whether to continue services to Belarus or flights through its airspace, but had not halted either.
Latvia’s AirBaltic said it would avoid Belarusian airspace while Britain’s transport secretary Grant Schapps tweeted that Britain had ordered that “airlines avoid Belarusian airspace in order to keep passengers safe”.
About 2,100 European flights a week pass through the country’s skies.
The UN International Civil Aviation Organisation declared that it was “strongly concerned” at reports of the Belarus action against the Ryanair flight. All the organisation’s 36 member countries, including the Republic, would have to back any investigation or sanction of Belarus.