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.
“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.
“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.