Flight intercepted in Belarus: ICAO holds emergency meeting


The International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations aviation agency, will hold an urgent meeting on May 27, 2021, over the forced diversion of flight FR4978 by the Belarus regime. Representatives from the 36 nations composing the ICAO Council will meet in Montreal, Canada, with officials from Belarus, Ireland, Lithuania, and Poland to discuss the incident.

On May 23, 2021, Ryanair’s Boeing 737, registered as SP-RSM, operating flight FR4978 from Athens (ATH), Greece, to Vilnius (VNO), Lithuania, was intercepted by an armed Belarusian MiG -29 fighter jet. Upon landing in Minsk (MSQ), Roman Protasevich, a journalist, and his partner Sofia Sapega were arrested by the KGB, the Belarusian security services.

Following the incident, the UN agency pointed out that the incident could have infringed on international air law. “ICAO is strongly concerned by the apparent forced landing of a Ryanair flight and its passengers, which could be in contravention of the Chicago Convention,” the agency said.

ICAO, however, does not hold the right to apply sanctions to countries. “We wish to remind those who demanded we take punitive action against that country that our agency was never assigned that type of role or capability, and that our core function is to help countries cooperate together diplomatically on international aviation priorities and to share their skies to their mutual benefit,” it noted on Twitter.

Leaders of the European Union urged to adopt the necessary measures to ban overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian carriers and called on all EU-based carriers to avoid overflight of Belarus. As a consequence, on May 26, 2021, the Belavia flight BRU869 from Minsk (MSQ) to Barcelona (BCN) had to turn back near the Polish border, after France denied it entry.

The Indian Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) recommended Indian operators plan the fuel supply of their flights by taking into account a last-minute re-routing. “Operators are requested to monitor the situation, as some airline operators have started re-routing their flights to avoid the airspace,”  reads the DGCA note. “Please ensure the fuel planning, should take into account the last moment re-route, in case overflying Belarus airspace.”

Following the outrage over the diversion of a Ryanair flight for the arrest of an opposition journalist on May 23, 2021, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he “acted legally” in order to counter a bomb threat.


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