IATA Applauds Strong Government Reaction In Belarus Case

Ryanair landing at Vilnius
Credit: Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images

IATA Director General Willie Walsh does not expect the May 23 interception of a Ryanair Boeing 737-800 by Belarus to “set a precedent” for other governments to follow. 

“It is important that governments come together to condemn the government of Belarus ... to ensure that we don’t see a repeat of this behavior,” Walsh said during a May 26 media briefing. He commended the Ryanair crew for their action and the international community for its strong rejection of the case.

Belarus had “recommended” to the crew of Ryanair flight 4978 from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania to divert to Minsk because of a bomb threat, according to a statement released by the country’s civil aviation authority (CAA). The Belarusian CAA said that an email was sent to Minsk airport saying that “we, Hamas soldiers, demand that Israel cease fire in the Gaza Strip. We demand that the European Union abandon its support for Israel in this war. We know that the participants of Delphi Economic Forum are returning home on May 23 via flight FR4978. A bomb has been planted onto this aircraft. If you don’t meet our demands the bomb will explode on May 23 over Vilnius. Allahu Akbar.”

A cease fire between Israel and Hamas took effect on May 21, two days before the Ryanair flight.

Belarus also released a transcript of communications between the crew and air traffic control (ATC). It is unclear whether the transcript is complete or has been edited. It is supposed to show that it was the crew’s own decision to divert to Minsk rather than continue to Vilnius, which was much closer, and ends when the aircraft is handed over to the Minsk tower frequency for landing clearance. A detailed statement preceding the transcript does not mention the interception, which Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed in a different context claiming the jet took off because the Ryanair aircraft passed a nuclear power plant.

In Minsk, opposition blogger Roman Protasevich and his companion Sofia Sapega were arrested. No bomb was found on board.

Walsh said the case was an “extremely rare event,” but that it was “disturbing to see a government intercept [an aircraft] for a bogus reason.” In Walsh’s opinion, even with a credible bomb threat in place “it would have been safer to continue to the destination.” Independent of government recommendations to avoid Belarusian airspace it was “to be expected” that an airline safety assessment would have come to the same conclusion of not operating over Belarus for the time being.

Most, but not all, airlines flew around Belarus on May 26. Operators from Russia and China in particular continued to use Belarusian airspace and national carrier Belavia was able to continue flying to some European countries in spite of EU intentions to ban Belarusian aircraft.

Jens Flottau

Based in Frankfurt, Germany, Jens is executive editor and leads Aviation Week Network’s global team of journalists covering commercial aviation.


1 Comment
I read in Reuters yesterday that following the French refusal to allow a Belavia flight (2869) to cross French airspace or use French ATC the Belarus government is apoplectic about France and the EU in general for not abiding by the Chicago Convention - which they broke!