IATA Blasts EASA Belarus Ban As Politicization Of Aviation Safety

IATA Director General and CEO Willie Walsh
IATA Director General and CEO Willie Walsh
Credit: IATA

IATA is criticizing EASA’s Safety Directive banning European aircraft from entering Belarusian airspace, following the May 23 forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk.

IATA said separation between politics and aviation safety issues was critical and that the move “effectively politicizes air safety.” 

Ryanair FR4978, which was scheduled to fly from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, was intercepted by Belarusian authorities over Belarus airspace May 23 and forced to land in Minsk, whereupon a dissident Belarusian journalist and his companion were removed from the aircraft and arrested. The incident was immediately condemned by the EU, by individual countries and by IATA.  

On June 2, EASA replaced its recommendation (Safety Information Bulletin) for European airlines to carefully assess the risk of flying in Belarus airspace–a recommendation IATA had supported–with a blanket prohibition (Safety Directive) on European aircraft entering Belarus airspace.

“Aviation safety must never be politicized,” IATA said June 4.  “Banning European aircraft from using Belarusian airspace with a Safety Directive is also a politicization of aviation safety. This is a retrograde and disappointing development. EASA should rescind its prohibition and allow airlines to manage safety as they do each and every day—with their normal operational risk assessments.”

“Two wrongs do not make a right,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh said. “Politics should never interfere with the safe operation of aircraft and politicians should never use aviation safety as a cover to pursue political or diplomatic agendas.” 

IATA said several airlines had continued to use Belarusian airspace since the incident and the organization supported their right to do so.  

“On June 2, 2021, after consultation with EASA Members states and the European Commission, EASA issued Safety Directive 2021-02,” an EASA spokesperson said. “The Safety Directive (SD) calls on the National Competent Authorities in EASA member states to instruct aircraft operators with their principal place of business in their territories that conducting operations in Belarus airspace (FIR Minsk) is no longer allowed, unless required for safe operations in unforeseen circumstances.”  

The SD’s safety objective is to reduce the potential risk to passengers and crews that could arise in this airspace, the spokesperson said following the May 23 incident. “Regrettably the safety of passengers and crews brings additional cost and work for the airlines, many of which are represented by IATA,” the spokesperson said. “Safety remains a key driver of the activities and the mission of EASA in providing safe air travel for EU citizens in Europe and worldwide.”

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.