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Ryanair boss pushes to restore flight over Belarus despite hijacking

written by Isabella Richards | June 16, 2021

Security with a sniffer dog in Vilnius checking luggage in front of Ryanair flight FR4978, which carried opposition journalist Roman Praotasevich (Onliner.by)

Despite the airline falling victim to what has been labelled by global leaders as a ‘state-backed hijack’, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has said he is confident the airline, and the rest of Europe, will soon return to Belarusian airspace.

O’Leary testified before the British Parliament in London on Tuesday regarding the hijacking incident, which saw a Ryanair flight deliberately diverted to land in Minsk under false pretenses, in order for Belarusian authorities to detain a wanted political journalist.

As it stands, Belarusian carriers are currently banned from flying over EU and UK territories, alongside a safety directive that aircraft should avoid Belarusian airspace unless called for – however, O’Leary has said he hopes this policy won’t last forever.

“We need to have an outcome where the European and the UK authorities, hopefully assisted by international partners, receive appropriate assurances from the Belarusian, and or Russian authorities, that this will never happen again,” he said.

The Ryanair boss agreed with the safety measures taken, but long term insists the aviation industry cannot flourish without access to all airspace. Overall, the restrictions would result in longer flights, ultimately deterring passenger interest in the airline, he said.

“The freedom to overfly states is something that we have perhaps taken for granted for the last 70-80 years,” O’Leary told the lawmakers. “We must restore it as quickly as possible.”

Despite recent criticism by Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker of the Ryanair pilot’s decision to comply with local ATC direction and land in Minsk, O’Leary stated before the Parliament that the pilot was given no other option.


Despite there being more suitable options physically available, such as Poland or other Baltic countries, O’Leary said the pilot was under “considerable pressure” by authorities in Belarus, and wasn’t left with any alternatives other than to comply with the directive to land.

As reported on World of Aviation last month, global airlines and international organisations expressed outrage over the deliberate diversion of a Ryanair flight from Lithuania to neighbouring Belarus, which resulted in the arrest of a political journalist.

Reports suggested 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.

The plane, carrying around 170 people from 12 countries, was just minutes away from crossing into Lithuanian airspace when it was suddenly diverted to the Belarusian capital, escorted by a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet.

Upon landing, authorities took journalist Roman Protasevich into custody. Protasevich is reported to have become frantic in the plane’s cabin when the pilots announced the last-minute diversion to Minsk, and later remarked: “I’ll get the death penalty here”, as authorities removed him from the scene.

The 26-year-old journalist was wanted in Belarus on extremism charges, following reporting he produced for Poland-based news service NEXTA, which broadcast footage of mass protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last year.

The United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is still investigating the incident and will supposedly report back in a few weeks following the Tuesday hearing.


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