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Qatar CEO criticises pilot’s ‘fundamental error’ during Belarus hijack

written by Hannah Dowling | June 2, 2021
Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways since 1997. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker has said the pilot of the Ryanair flight that was forced to land in Minsk last week made a “fundamental error” in choosing to re-route the flight to Belarus, rather than continue on to the destination in Lithuania.

Last week, it was reported that Belarusian authorities flagged a false bomb threat onboard Ryanair flight 4978, bound for Lithuania, and sent a fighter jet to instead escort the plane to Minsk in order to detain a journalist who opposed the Belarusian government.

“I think the pilot made a fundamental error by not continuing to Vilinius, because that was a closer airport than Minsk,” Al Baker said, speaking to Bloomberg.

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“However, from what I understand, there was some kind of communication from air traffic controllers that made him go to Minsk,” he went on to say.

As previously reported, a partial transcript of the conversation between the flight’s pilot and the air traffic controllers in Belarus shows that the pilot repeatedly questioned the order to re-route to Minsk, and requested alternative landing options apart from Minsk.

The pilot was also informed by ATC that “you have a bomb on board and it can be activated over Vilnius”, which meant the pilot had little choice but to avoid Lithuanian airspace, despite clearly feeling uneasy with the directives of Belerusian authorities.

The pilot also repeatedly questioned where the information regarding the bomb threat had come from, and why Belarus was intercepting, considering the plane was about to enter into Lithuanian airspace.

Despite his criticism of the pilot, Al Baker shared concern that the ‘hijacking’ incident, which is said to have broken several international treaty conventions, could set a very dangerous precedent for the future, and see other nations manipulate commercial jets in order to achieve their own agenda.

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“This is something that should never have happened,” Al Baker said.

“This will create a precedent for other countries to do the same when there is someone on a plane that they want.”

Despite this comment, and while a number of nations and airlines have opted not to fly through Belarusian airspace in retaliation for the incident, Al Baker said Qatar Airways has not changed its policy, and has continued to transit through Belarus.

“As far as we are concerned, for us business as usual,” he said.

“If we feel we need to overfly Minsk to reach our destination, we will because we don’t like to bring our business, airline business, and mix it with politics”.

Yesterday, World of Aviation reported that Qatar Airways is also threatening to refuse to take delivery of Airbus aircraft, following a spat with the European planemaker reportedly over an unsatisfactory A350 paint job.

Al Baker told Bloomberg on Monday that if the problem with the aircraft does not resolve quickly, their relationship will be at serious risk.

“If we are not able to settle that serious issue we have with them, we will refuse to take any aircraft from them,” threatened Al Baker.

6 Comments

  • Sean

    says:

    The guys is a goose and should not be running an airline

  • frank

    says:

    Easy to coach the team the day after the game. The Captain is not alone onboard. He/she must take the action less likely to harm the people in the back. I would have hated having to make that decision but I would have been forced to do exactly what this Captain did. Get everyone safely on the ground. Unfortunate for the dissident aboard but the safety of the other pax was paramount.

  • Randal Wayne McFarlane

    says:

    The aircraft was also under close escort by a Belarus MiG 29…Ali Baba seems to have forgotten that too..

  • Paul

    says:

    When the Captain of an aircraft is ordered to alter course and he sees a fighter aircraft waiting beside him to “escort” the plane to a place the pilot was not heading for, and thinks of his crew and plane load full of passengers, of course he is going to alter direction! The CEO of Qatar Airlines must be mad if he thinks otherwise!

  • Petter Fure

    says:

    Mr Baker, do you discuss when there is a MIG-fighter on your tail ?

  • Ronnie

    says:

    I hope his pilots working for Qatar take note of this and take this into account working for Qatar.

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