European airlines bypass Belarusian airspace – POLITICO

The skies over Belarus were calm on Monday as a multitude of airlines avoided the country’s airspace after its authoritarian government forced a Ryanair flight to land on Sunday and ripped off an opposition blogger and his girlfriend.

Wizz Air, Austrian Airlines and Air Baltic have all rerouted their flights to avoid Belarusian airspace.

The Lithuanian government has closed its airports to flights from Belarus and urged its citizens to leave the country.

“To ensure the safety of Lithuanian citizens, air carriers flying to / from Lithuania will have to reroute their flights to avoid Belarusian airspace,” a government statement said, which estimated that this would affect around 26 flights per day. .

British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the British Civil Aviation Authority to ask carriers to avoid Belarusian airspace and suspended the operating license of Belavia, the state airline Belarusian it wrote on social networks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Monday ended flights between Kiev and Minsk and banned the theft of Ukrainian-registered planes over Belarus.

The Ryanair incident will be discussed by EU leaders on Monday, and there is increasing pressure on the bloc to retaliate.

A senior EU official said leaders hope to prevent Belavia from traveling to EU countries, either by a Council decision or, if it takes too long, through national action coordinated. Once this is accomplished, they expect Belarus to retaliate against European carriers, so widespread disruption of air travel to Belarus is expected.

Belarus is a marginal air market for EU countries, with Lot in Poland and Lufthansa in Germany among the few with regular flights to Minsk. Lufthansa announced Monday evening that it would cease operations in Belarusian airspace. Most flights to Belarus are offered by Belavia. However, Belarus is also an important area for overflights, especially after flights were suspended over eastern Ukraine after Russian-backed separatists downed a Malaysia Airlines plane in 2014, killing 298 people.

European airspace managers Eurocontrol said in an emailed statement that in the week ending May 19, around 2,500 flights were over Belarus or had an origin or destination in the country. , of which 419 were operated by Belavia.

“The network manager is working with airlines and air navigation service providers in countries neighboring Belarus to ensure the availability of sufficient capacity to ensure that airlines can avoid Belarusian airspace if they do so. wish, “the agency said.

This forces airlines to deviate from straight lines that allow cheaper and faster flights – the kind of route Ryanair flight FR4978 was following on Sunday as it flew from Athens to Vilnius.

Wizz Air rerouted a flight from Kiev to Tallinn on Monday, while Air Baltic twice opted to avoid Belarusian airspace on Sunday on flights from Riga to Odessa in Ukraine and Tbilisi in Georgia.

The Latvian airline said in an emailed statement that it was following a recommendation from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) “as a precautionary measure to exercise caution in its operations at inside or above Minsk “.

EASA spokeswoman Janet Northcote said the agency is “monitoring the situation” and has contacted national aviation authorities to “raise awareness of the situation”.

“National authorities have been recommended to pass this information on to their airlines, so that they can be included in the risk assessment process of each airline,” she said.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said his airline would follow advice from European authorities on whether carriers should be banned from flying over Belarus, but said his airline does not fly over the country often and would require a “very minor adjustment” to fly over Poland instead.

Another airline that diverted a flight, Austrian Airlines, said it had done so because the security situation at the time “still had to be assessed”. But he said he decided to use Belarusian airspace again after “extensive safety assessments” with his parent company, the Lufthansa Group.

The situation is still not normal in Minsk. On Monday, a Lufthansa flight from the Belarusian capital to Frankfurt was delayed after the authorities said they had received a report of a possible terrorist act.

The Belarusian transport ministry on Monday blamed the decision to call the Ryanair plane to land in Minsk on Hamas, the militant organization in the Middle East. Apparently, Hamas sent an email to Minsk threatening to detonate a bomb on the plane if its demands for a ceasefire with Israel were not met. Minsk was not a destination for the Ryanair flight, and Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire last week.

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reports.

This article has been updated with the cessation of Lufthansa operations over Belarus.

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