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Top airline body IATA criticizes EU ban on Belarus flights


Paris, France: A leading airline association criticized Friday an EU ban on flying in Belarusian airspace as politicizing air safety.

EU states have been furious since Belarus last month forced a Ryanair flight crossing its airspace to land in Minsk on the pretext of a bomb threat in order to arrest an opposition activist.

An initial warning to avoid Belarus airspace by the EU’s aviation safety body EASA was strengthened on Wednesday into a formal ban for EU airlines.

“Aviation safety must never be politicized,” the head of the International Air Transport Association, Willie Walsh, said in a statement.

“Banning European aircraft from using Belarusian airspace with a Safety Directive is also a politicization of aviation safety” that Walsh called “a retrograde and disappointing development”.

IATA, which has condemned the forced landing of the Ryanair aircraft flying between two EU countries, called on EASA to rescind its order.

“Two wrongs do not make a right. Politics should never interfere with the safe operation of aircraft and politicians should never use aviation safety as a cover to pursue political or diplomatic agendas,” said Walsh.

The trade group wants airlines to be able to decide for themselves whether or not to use Belarusian airspace after conducting risk assessments.

IATA represents 290 member airlines that account for over four-fifths of global air traffic.

EASA said later Friday that the objective of its safety directive “is to reduce the potential risk to passengers and crews that could arise from operations in this airspace.”

It recognized that it brings additional costs and work for airlines, but said: “safety remains a key driver of the activities and the mission of EASA”.

What happened? Background of the incident

Belarusian officials forced Ryanair aircraft FR4978 to divert and land in Minsk on May 23, 2021, while overflying Belarus on its way from Athens to Vilnius.

A Belarusian fighter jet accompanied the plane to Minsk on the orders of strongman Alexander Lukashenko, where Protasevich, a 26-year-old who had been living in Lithuania, was arrested along with his Russian fiancée.

The unusual action aroused outrage around the world, with Western officials accusing Belarusian officials of effectively seizing a European jet.

EASA published a Safety Information Bulletin shortly after the event, recommending airlines to avoid operating in Belarusian airspace.

This did not prevent European planes from utilizing the airspace, but it did require any airline that continued to do so to prove that the aircraft’s, passengers’, and crew’s safety was not jeopardized.

IATA lauded the decision as a proportionate response to the acts of the Belarusian government. The airline body also appreciated the use of Belarusian airspace by a number of airlines. 

EASA issued a Safety Directive on June 2nd, after consultation with the EASA Member States and the European Commission, effectively prohibiting airlines from utilizing Belarusian airspace. 

With AFP inputs. 


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