In response to international condemnation of an incident in Belarus, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has suspended the operating permit of Belarus’s national carrier, Belavia. In addition, the CAA is requesting all UK airlines to avoid using Belarus airspace as a safety precaution.
British MP and Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps confirmed the decision on Twitter just hours after airBaltic became the first airline to divert flights away from Belarus. The move is a direct response to an incident on Sunday involving a Ryanair flight that was forced to divert and land in Belarus.
Following the forced diversion of a @Ryanair aircraft to Minsk yesterday, I’ve instructed @UK_CAA to request airlines avoid Belarusian airspace in order to keep passengers safe. I have also suspended Belavia’s operating permit.
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) May 24, 2021
Authorities in Belarus claim the flight was a bomb threat, but this seems to have been an intentional interception to arrest an opposition journalist on the flight. Since Sunday, there has been an international outcry against the forced diversion.
Following the statement by Shapps, the UK CAA posted its own notification, stating that it has suspended all air carrier permits held by Belarusian airlines until further notice.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority has published a statement regarding Belarus.
— UK Civil Aviation Authority (@UK_CAA) May 24, 2021
This is unlikely to affect passenger airlines, as only Belavia flies to the UK. It could potentially impact the two main cargo airlines, TransAVIAexport Airlines and Rubystar, had they been planning to fly UK missions in the near future.
More action to come
airBaltic was the first airline to officially announce it would avoid Belarus. Cyprus-based Avia Solutions swiftly followed it. Now the UK has become the first nation to move against Belarus’ airline. However, it’s likely more will follow. The French government has requested the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) suspend all international flights over Belarusian airspace.
Lithuania’s transport minister Marius Skuodis has also confirmed that LOT and Wizzair would avoid Belarusian airspace. An Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna to Moscow has also gone around Belarus instead of straight across.
In addition, any flights heading to Lithuania, no matter where they originated, will need to avoid Belarusian airspace from midnight GMT tonight. Other countries will likely follow suit and suspend Belarus’ national carrier. Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte has also told Lithuanian tourists to leave Belarus.
Carrying on as normal
However, codesharing partner airline KLM has so far confirmed that although it is monitoring the situation, it was happy to continue flying as planned for now. Ryanair, the airline involved in the original incident, has not made any changes other than to say,
“We, like all the European airlines, are looking for guidance today from the European authorities and from NATO.”
Today, Ryanair flights have continued to cross Belarusian airspace. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary did denounce the move as “state-sponsored hijacking, state-sponsored piracy.”
While the UK’s move to block Belavia is a clear message, currently, it is little more than just that. Diverting flights around airspace costs airlines from other countries time and money. Suspending the national carrier is a much bigger step against Belarus.
However, the airline can still operate flights across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. It also has codesharing agreements with multiple airlines, including Air France, Finnair, KLM, Etihad, Austrian, and S7. As a result, the current restriction isn’t a huge blow but more of a political statement.
At the time of publication, Simple Flying had reached out to Belavia for comment but had not received a response.