ICAO Council Voices Concerns On Belarus Ryanair Report

Ryanair FR4978 pictured on May 23, 2021, after being told to land by Belarusian air traffic controllers.
Credit: AFP/Getty Images

ICAO Council member states have expressed concerns that Belarus may have held back information during the UN agency’s fact-finding investigation into the diversion of Ryanair FR4978 to Minsk in May 2021.

The Ryanair Boeing 737, flying from Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania, was contacted by air traffic controllers in Belarus as it passed through their airspace. They said that a bomb threat against the aircraft had been received and recommended the crew divert to the Belarusian capital, even though the flight was by that time closer to its destination airport. 

Once on the ground in Minsk, security forces arrested passenger Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian journalist who had expressed opposition to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. The journalist’s Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, was also arrested.  

Both have since appeared before a Belarusian court and are still believed to be held under house arrest in the country.  

Opening the Council’s latest session in Montreal on Jan. 31, member states considered the fact-finding report, which was released Jan. 17

The Council “expressed concern at gaps in the information provided by Belarus to the inquiry team,” together with “inconsistencies contained in the evidence available at the time of the investigation in relation to crucial aspects of the factual reconstruction of the events.”

Council members also highlighted the fact “that the bomb threat against FR4978 was deliberately false and had endangered the safety of an aircraft in flight.”

Member states noted that communicating false information that endangers the safety of an aircraft “is an offense under the Montreal Convention, and in this connection, strongly condemned such practices.”

In light of newly emerging information relating to the incident and timeline, the Council asked the investigation team to continue its work to try to uncover the missing facts.

Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.