ICAO takes up investigation of Ryanair FR4978 forced diversion in Belarus

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Following an emergency meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations aviation agency, representatives from the 36 nations composing the Council decided to launch an investigation into the alleged forced diversion of Ryanair flight FR4978 by the Belarus regime.

“At a special meeting convened, the ICAO Governing Body underlined the importance of establishing the facts of what happened, and of understanding whether there had been any breach by any ICAO Member State of international aviation law, including the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention) and its Annexes,” ICAO wrote in a statement. 

The ICAO Council estimated that the incident might have infringed on Article 4 of the Convention on misuse of civil aviation. The article states that “each contracting State agrees not to use civil aviation for any purpose inconsistent with the aims of this Convention.”

“The Council has therefore decided that all relevant facts should be officially established through an ICAO investigation conducted by the ICAO Secretariat,” emphasized ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano. 

All involved countries should take part in the investigation, namely Ireland, where Ryanair is headquartered, Greece, and Lithuania, as respectively the country of origin and destination of the flight, Poland where the aircraft is registered, and obviously, Belarus, whose own report was already transmitted to the ICAO.

The Aviation Department of the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Belarus previously claimed Minsk International Airport (MSQ) had received an email, signed by “Hamas soldiers” to warn of a bomb planted in the flight. According to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, the diversion was made “legally, protecting people, in accordance with all international rules.”

While Russia officially welcomed the investigation, Russian envoy to ICAO Sergey Gudkov claimed that European countries seemingly already made up their minds before even considering the facts. 

“There was an impression that remarks by Europeans were staged in advance and each country played its part,” Gudkov told TASS, adding that “there was no forced landing of the Ryanair flight in Minsk, neither an air traffic controller nor the scrambled fighter jet of the Belarusian Air Force forced a pilot to change direction.”

The interim report will be published by the end of June 2021, ahead of a second ICAO session regarding 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 hailed by Belarusian air traffic control, claiming a bomb was planted in the aircraft.

After the flight was forced to land in Minsk (MSQ) under the escort of an armed Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet, two passengers identified as opposition journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega were arrested by the KGB, the Belarusian security services.

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