The European Union has levied sanctions against Belarus for the forced landing of a Ryanair flight to Vilnius on Sunday. The sanctions include a ban on Belarusian airlines from flying over EU airspace or any airports. The Union is also urging airlines to avoid flying over Belarus following the incident, a move many airlines have already begun making.
Following a meeting on Monday, the European Council announced plans to sanction Belarus for its actions over the weekend. The recommendations include banning overflight rights for any Belarusian carrier and denying access to EU airports with immediate effect.
The Council also demanded the release of opposition journalist Roman Pratasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega who were arrested following the forced landing of Ryanair flight FR4978.
In addition to banning Belarusian carriers, the EU is urging all airlines in the EU to stop flying over Belarus to prevent a similar incident. While this is not a firm ban, airlines have already begun implementing the same for the safety of their passengers. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has also issued a warning.
Carriers suspending their Belarusian operations or overflight routes includes airBaltic, Lufthansa, Finnair, Air France, and many others. The coming days will likely see most European and UK airlines suspend flying over Belarus due to the potential risk.
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After the initial shock of the incident, which the EU has called a hijacking, we are learning more details. According to the Lithuanian police, speaking to the New York Times, there were five fewer passengers onboard when the flight landed in Vilnius than when it took off from Athens.
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has said the remaining three passengers (minus Mr. Pratasevich and Ms. Sapega) may have been Belarusian intelligence officers, all of whom left the aircraft in Minsk.
These revelations have fueled anger against Belarus’ leader Alexander Lukashenko and drawn the ire of global leaders. In addition to this round of sanctions, the EU is also considering harsher, targeted economic sanctions against the country very soon.
Overflight rights in air travel are considered matters of international law, with countries respecting all authorized commercial aircraft in their skies. While countries have banned airlines from specific countries for safety or political reasons, Belarus’ action on Sunday was a brazen violation of treaties and norms.
Ryanair flight FR4978 had to land in Minsk after Belarusian authorities informed the aircraft of a possible bomb threat onboard. To ensure the plane landed, the country even scrambled MiG 29 fighter jets to escort the Boeing 737-800. However, in reality, the threat was a bogus plan to force the plane down and arrest Mr. Pratasevich, an opposition journalist.
What do you think about the EU’s sanctions on Belarusian carriers? Let us know in the comments below.