Ryanair CEO: Belarus Committed “State-Sponsored Hijacking”

Ryanair CEO: Belarus Committed “State-Sponsored Hijacking”

27

Yesterday Belarus did something I don’t think we’ve ever seen before (at least not in Europe), where the country essentially hijacked a commercial airliner bound for another country in order to arrest someone. As more details emerge, this situation looks worse and worse, and I hope authorities take this seriously (though unfortunately I suspect this may be one of those “thoughts and prayers” situations).

The basics of what happened yesterday

A Ryanair flight was flying from Greece to Lithuania. One of the passengers is a journalist who is wanted by Belarus’ (essentially) dictator for exposing the country.

Based on what we know, Belarus claimed there was a bomb onboard, and the Ryanair pilots were told to divert to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. At this point the pilots were closer to Vilnius than Minsk, and they didn’t buy the story, and initially said they wanted to continue to their destination. However, Belarus then deployed a fighter jet to essentially force the plane to land in Minsk.

When the plane landed, authorities arrested the “wanted” passenger, and eventually the plane was allowed to continue to Lithuania.

The gravity and precedent of this situation can’t be understated. Aviation is supposed to come with certain freedoms and protections, and the concept of an international flight being hijacked by a government of another country in order to arrest an “enemy” of the government can’t be tolerated.

Think of the implications here — could a flight from the United States to Japan that flies over Russia be forced to divert by the Russian government if there’s an “enemy” onboard, or could a flight from Germany to Thailand that flies over China be forced to divert by the Chinese government if there’s an “enemy” onboard?

Ryanair’s evolving response to this situation

Last night Ryanair issued an official statement about what happened to this flight, which was downright offensive (given that we already knew most of the details):

The crew on a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius today (May 23) were notified by Belarus ATC of a potential security threat on board and were instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk.

The aircraft landed safely and passengers were offloaded while security checks were completed by local authorities.

Nothing untoward was found and authorities cleared the aircraft to depart together with passengers and crew after approx. 7hrs on the ground in Minsk.

Ryanair has notified the relevant national and European safety agencies and we apologise sincerely to all affected passengers for this regrettable delay, which was outside Ryanair’s control.

REALLY?! Just conveniently gloss over the whole fake bomb threat and a passenger being arrested? If you’re not going to be honest, just don’t issue a statement.

Fortunately Ryanair’s statement this morning is a bit more reasonable:

Ryanair condemns the unlawful actions of Belarusian authorities who diverted Ryanair’s flight FR4978 to Minsk yesterday (May 23), which was an act of aviation piracy.

This is now being dealt with by EU safety and security agencies & NATO. Ryanair is fully cooperating with them and we cannot comment further for security reasons.

That’s the correct response. It’s one thing if Ryanair felt like it didn’t initially have all the info, but the initial statement was downright inaccurate.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary is one of the most outspoken guys in the airline industry, and this morning he has called this a “state-sponsored hijacking, state-sponsored piracy.”

He also stated that he believes there were KGB agents on the flight as well, who were also offloaded. That’s another interesting element to all of this — if that’s the case, clearly the government had been plotting this, which makes you wonder who revealed the guy’s travel plans.

Some airlines are avoiding Belarusian airspace

It looks like some airlines are starting to avoid Belarusian airspace.

For example, Wizz Air flight 6285 from Kyiv to Tallinn made a significant detour to avoid Belarusian airspace, which added over 30 minutes to the flight time.

Ironically Ryanair is continuing to use Belarusian airspace. For example, look at Ryanair flight 3340 from Pafos to Tallinn.

This is despite the airline accusing the country of having just committed a state-sponsored hijacking against one of its planes. I guess it’s actually not that ironic — there’s nothing Ryanair loves more than money.

Bottom line

Ryanair’s CEO is finally calling this Minsk diversion and fake bomb threat exactly what it is — state-sponsored terrorism. That’s a much fairer description of the situation than Ryanair’s official statement last night.

Here’s to hoping that aviation authorities and airlines take action against Belarus. Unfortunately I’m not too confident justice will be served here.

What do you make of this situation, including Ryanair’s response? What actions do you think aviation authorities should take against Belarus?

Conversations (27)
Newest comments are displayed first.

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Type your response here.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Anyone can comment, and your email address will not be published. Register to save your unique username and earn special OMAAT reputation perks!

  1. vlcnc

    It's spelt Paphos not Pafos btw

  2. Henry Young

    Let's not forget that the USA seriously contemplated a similar action, through proxies, when they suspected Edward Snowden was flying out of Hong Kong. The double standards are the best kind ;)

  3. GLCTraveler

    Piss on Belarus and Russia too for being such oppressive and weasley governments.... Sanctions away boys & girls of the world!!

    @Truth you Hate, you are a limp member of the KGB..... The CIA is watching you!

  4. Morgan

    Come one Ryanair tell it how it is, good Belarus should be held fully accountable!

  5. Alan

    Regardless of whether or not the bomb threat was real, it sure seems reckless on the part of the pilots to not believe a threat that was received from an air traffic controller from the country they were flying over. Has this happened before where pilots ignore air traffic control? Or is it possible they know more than they are telling us?

  6. Sung

    A google search shows the incident about Israel intercepting Libyan jet and then Evo Morales jet's own pilots requesting emergency landing in Vienna due to fuel level.

    People making comments, it i's not that hard to confirm information online. It was Israel that intercepted a private jet, and while it is possible US requested no entry to airspace to certain countries for Evo Morales jet, US nor its allies sent fighter jets to intercept to...

    A google search shows the incident about Israel intercepting Libyan jet and then Evo Morales jet's own pilots requesting emergency landing in Vienna due to fuel level.

    People making comments, it i's not that hard to confirm information online. It was Israel that intercepted a private jet, and while it is possible US requested no entry to airspace to certain countries for Evo Morales jet, US nor its allies sent fighter jets to intercept to force a landing.

    There is a reason why this incident is called a hijacking.

  7. JBR

    * Correction, President Evo Morales’s plane was flying from Russia to Bolivia.

  8. JBR

    @Akim Akima and Fonzi:

    Regarding the Libyan incident you assert, it wasn't the US that forced a Libyan jet down, it was Israel in 1986 when looking for Palestinian terrorist leaders the Israeli Air Force intercepted a Libyan executive jet bound for Damascus in international air space near Cyprus, and forced the Libyan executive jet to land at a military airfield in northern Israel (unless you are citing an incident that can't be verified online)....

    @Akim Akima and Fonzi:

    Regarding the Libyan incident you assert, it wasn't the US that forced a Libyan jet down, it was Israel in 1986 when looking for Palestinian terrorist leaders the Israeli Air Force intercepted a Libyan executive jet bound for Damascus in international air space near Cyprus, and forced the Libyan executive jet to land at a military airfield in northern Israel (unless you are citing an incident that can't be verified online).

    Regarding the Bolivian President's plane, President Evo Morales's plane was flying from Russia to Vienna after attending a gas-exporting conference when it had to land in Vienna after pilots requested emergency landing due to fuel issues. Perhaps his plane was searched for Edward Snowden (or not), but the important thing to note is that no American fighter jets forced his plane down. This is in contrast to the Belarus MIG-29 that forced the Ryanair flight to divert to Minsk.

  9. Fonzi

    To be fair we actually DID see this in Europe. Evo Morales was forced land in Vienna and searched if Snowden was not on board.

  10. Steve_CC

    If i am wanted in a country and am facing the death penalty there is no chance i will fly over that country. Why even take that risk? Why even leave at all if you wanted. Sure this situation is terrible all around but come on you dont see Julian Assange flying around the world.

  11. Akim Akima

    It seems the world is learning from US actions. The United States did a similar thing during Reagan years as president when it forced a commercial plane carrying suspected Libyan agents to land so the agents could be arrested.
    The second instance the US did the same was with the Bolivian president's plane.

    So the US is teaching the world bad manners which would be hyprocritical for them to condemn.

  12. Craig Dangler

    Do not interfere with another country and their choices. Just like you supported private businesses requiring masks, you will support sovereign states and their rights to impose whatever they wish upon guests.

  13. Kent

    @Lucky - yes to your questions at the start. This is precisely why many national airlines avoid contentious air space; El Al avoiding all Islamic Nations despite being allowed entry into some air spaces is one example. Air India avoiding Pakistan at different points in its history is another.

    To respond to a comment above - searching an aircraft carrying a diplomat is not illegal. However, searching a diplomat or their luggage and belongings...

    @Lucky - yes to your questions at the start. This is precisely why many national airlines avoid contentious air space; El Al avoiding all Islamic Nations despite being allowed entry into some air spaces is one example. Air India avoiding Pakistan at different points in its history is another.

    To respond to a comment above - searching an aircraft carrying a diplomat is not illegal. However, searching a diplomat or their luggage and belongings violates international conventions and can provoke retaliatory action. Note that there is nothing such as "international law" so a country may/may not choose to follow guidelines of the Vienna Convention. If an aircraft is flying under the auspices of a foreign government, then that government would file for clearances with each country whose air space will be used. It is also then considered the responsibility of the owner of that air space to provide safe passage to this government aircraft. A country can also reject that request. This is why we used government jets when flying into and out of specific countries during my Diplomatic tenure. Otherwise, we just used commercial airlines. It is also a general rule to avoid flying over countries with whom we do not have any relations because if that country were to force our officials against will, little diplomatic leverage remains for us.

    While this news is uncomfortable, it is within the jurisdiction of the owner of an air space to demand such from any airline.

  14. TK

    Ryanair flight was cleared for departure only after Belavia flight from Vilnius to Minsk entered Belarusian airspace.

  15. Klaus

    And then there was flight HV6902 from Dubai to Amsterdam which had to land in Vienna because one passenger couldn’t stop farting - that started a discussion with the result of 4 passengers being offloaded in Vienna.

    @Alex and Corey Sacken:
    Yes, unlike the Belarus/Bolivia incident this incident is absolutely different. That’s why I am bringing it up. So you can see two incidents that are completely different.

  16. Juraj

    +1 for @Corey:
    Denying overflight is one thing – the jet was free to return to point of origin or an airport of their choosing. That's quite different from letting a commercial airliner enter your airspace just to abuse the fact and force it to land at gunpoint.

    Also do note that whatever would've hypothetically happened to Snowden in Austria is not comparable to what's likely happening to Protasevich in the dictatorship that is Belarus.

  17. Klaus

    @ Globetrotter:
    The method is different but the outcome is the same: An airplane lands because a country is looking for a person that is considered uncomfortable.

    Thank you for bringing up this example.

    @Alex:
    Then you could also say that dissidents don’t HAVE to fly over dictatorships.

    Both incidents are not okay - and searching a diplomatic aircraft is illegal (?).

  18. Nate

    If you are on a most wanted list, don't fly over their country. That simple.

  19. Paolo

    The Russians and their lickspittle lapdogs have become emboldened by the craven milquetoasts in Europe, who won’t say “boo” to them, and not helped by the recently departed 5th columnist in DC.
    I don’t mind Ryanair on a ‘cheap-as-chips-what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ basis, but O’Leary is so loathsome that I try to avoid them, even more so after this abysmal spin mega fail.

  20. Alex

    @Globetrotter

    Those are absurdly different. Countries don’t HAVE to let planes fly over them. It’s far different to allow a plane to fly over and then force them down via fighter jet and a fake bomb threat.

  21. Globetrotter

    @The nice Paul - not at all suggesting two wrongs make it right. I have already said that I don't agree with what Belarus did.

    @Corey Sacken - making it impossible to transit out of Europe was a polite way to force the plane to land. And it was a diplomatic flight with greater immunity than a first freedom flight. Again, I don't agree with what Belarus did but also don't remember any sanctions...

    @The nice Paul - not at all suggesting two wrongs make it right. I have already said that I don't agree with what Belarus did.

    @Corey Sacken - making it impossible to transit out of Europe was a polite way to force the plane to land. And it was a diplomatic flight with greater immunity than a first freedom flight. Again, I don't agree with what Belarus did but also don't remember any sanctions being imposed on the US, France, Spain, Italy and Austria. Probably because Bolivia is of no economic interest to them.

  22. Truth you hate

    Thank you for bringing it up, Globetrotter as I was going to mention it myself. It never stops to amaze me how two-faced and cynical American propaganda can be! Why to mention Russia and China in your article with hypothetical scenarios when there was a real life example involving subservient EU and lawless US even infringing diplomatic immunity of another country's president?

    On a sidenote, presenting this guy from an organisation set up and...

    Thank you for bringing it up, Globetrotter as I was going to mention it myself. It never stops to amaze me how two-faced and cynical American propaganda can be! Why to mention Russia and China in your article with hypothetical scenarios when there was a real life example involving subservient EU and lawless US even infringing diplomatic immunity of another country's president?

    On a sidenote, presenting this guy from an organisation set up and sponsored by the West to cause regime change in Belarus as a "journalist" and not an agent is quite comical in its own right!

  23. Corey Sacken

    Not only that what Globetrotter is indicating is entirely different.

    That was a private airplane that was requested to land and they accepted that request.

    The commercial airline carrier was threatened to be blown up unless they did as told. Belarus should be severely sanctioned and punished until they release the prisoner. Afterwards there should be long-term lesser sanctions on both Belarus and Russia.

  24. The nice Paul

    @Globetrotter
    No, it’s a “two wrongs don’t make a right” situation.

  25. Globetrotter

    On Jul 1, 2013, a diplomatic flight carrying the Bolivian president from Moscow to La Paz was forced to land in Austria after France, Italy and Spain denied it access to their airspace making it almost impossible for the plane (Dassault Falcon 900) to exit Europe. This was apparently done under US pressure on the belief that the plane was carrying Edward Snowden. Despite having full diplomatic immunity, the plane was apparently searched and released...

    On Jul 1, 2013, a diplomatic flight carrying the Bolivian president from Moscow to La Paz was forced to land in Austria after France, Italy and Spain denied it access to their airspace making it almost impossible for the plane (Dassault Falcon 900) to exit Europe. This was apparently done under US pressure on the belief that the plane was carrying Edward Snowden. Despite having full diplomatic immunity, the plane was apparently searched and released only after discovering Snowden wasn't on board.

    I am not a fan of what Belarus did but it is a "pot calling the kettle black" situation.

  26. Marc

    Ryanair needs to follow-up with those KGB agents on hidden city ticketing violations.

Featured Comments Load all 27 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

vlcnc

It's spelt Paphos not Pafos btw

Henry Young

Let's not forget that the USA seriously contemplated a similar action, through proxies, when they suspected Edward Snowden was flying out of Hong Kong. The double standards are the best kind ;)

GLCTraveler

Piss on Belarus and Russia too for being such oppressive and weasley governments.... Sanctions away boys & girls of the world!! @Truth you Hate, you are a limp member of the KGB..... The CIA is watching you!

Meet Ben Schlappig, OMAAT Founder
4,523,713 Miles Traveled

25,807,500 Words Written

28,675 Posts Published

Keep Exploring OMAAT
  • September 13, 2021
  • Ben Schlappig
21
Saudia’s Eye-Catching Boeing 777 Retro Livery
  • August 26, 2021
  • Ben Schlappig
37
Qantas Lounge Hong Kong Closing Permanently
  • August 25, 2021
  • Ben Schlappig
57
Uh Oh: United Airlines Downgrades JFK Flights