The European Union is moving against airlines that maintain flights into Belarus after it launched a further round of sanctions targeting the Belarusian Government. EU countries are up in arms with some airlines as they continue to fly unauthorized EU-bound migrants from the Middle East to Belarus.
“The issue is between the European Union and Belarus,” said the EC President, Ursula Von der Leyen, on Monday. “We have informed airlines that we will pave the way for a law to sanction carriers which support human trafficking, which the effect that Turkish Airlines has said they will no longer service Belarus. So did Cham Wings from Syria. Others will follow.”
Airlines dragged in as Belarussian crises deepens
The EU is hardening its stance as thousands of stranded migrants mass on the Belarussian side of its shared border with Poland. The EU alleges the Belarussian Government is allowing unauthorised migrants to use Minsk as a waypoint on their way to the EU.
According to the EU, Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, is transporting the migrants to the Polish border. It calls the behavior a form of human trafficking. Belarus shares a border with the EU nations of Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.
Belarus’s state airline Belavia has firmly rejected speculation it is flying migrants into Minsk as part of a government scheme to cause the EU angst. In a statement provided to The Guardian newspaper, Belavia said;
“Belavia does not operate, and during the calendar year, 2021 has not operated, scheduled or charter services to any of the following countries, which Belavia understands to be those countries which are the subject of allegations regarding migrant trafficking: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Syria.”
While that may be true, the airline has boosted capacity between Turkey and Belarus, with migrants wanting to get to the EU using Turkey as a stepping stone. Syrian and Iraqi airlines are also said to have organized charter flights to Minsk.
“Based on sales analysis, Belavia has blocked reservation and ticketing abilities for certain travel agencies considered at risk of making ticket sales to citizens from high-risk countries,” Belavia adds.
EU based lessors may want back leased Belavia aircraft
Fifteen airlines fly into Minsk National Airport, Belarus’s main international airport. In addition to Turkish Airlines and Cham Wings, flydubai, Aeroflot, Severstal Airlines, Avia Traffic Company, Pegas Fly, and Georgian Airways all service Minsk.
The Russian based airlines and Kyrgyzstan-based Avia Traffic Company (already banned from flying into the EU) may not be overly fussed by Ursula Von der Leyen and the EU sanctions. But several airlines will sit up and take notice.
Beleaguered Belavia may also be a casualty of the EU sanctions. The Minsk-based airline leases 21 of its 30 planes, with most coming from lessors based in the EU. The lessors are keeping an eye on whether sanctions will mean they have to pull their aircraft out of the country or simply cease new deliveries.
According to ch-aviation.com, Belavia has planes on lease from AerCap, Carpatair, Nordic Aviation Capital, SMBC Aviation Capital, Air Lease Corporation, Thunderbold Aircraft Lease, Altavair, and Merx Aviation Finance.
Ireland-based Nordic Aviation Capital has five planes at Belavia. The lessor told The Guardian they would “adhere to all restrictions introduced by government or regulatory authorities and was liaising with its customers to ensure the highest level of compliance with regulations.”
Ireland is home to around half the world’s airline lessors. The Irish Government is reportedly briefing the lessors on the repercussions of any further sanctions taken against Belarus.