Belarus flights between London and Minsk banned after Ryanair ‘hijack’

The Belarus national carrier, Belavia, has been told it cannot fly between London Gatwick and Minsk

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 24 May 2021 17:05
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UK aircraft ordered to avoid Belarus airspace after Ryanair ‘hijack’
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UK aircraft have been ordered to stay away from Belarusian airspace, following Sunday’s forced diversion of a Ryanair plane.

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said he has instructed the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to request airlines avoid Belarusian airspace “in order to keep passengers safe”.

The CAA has issued a notice to all UK-registered airlines requesting that they avoid overflight of any territory of Belarus.

One British Airways jet, flight BA261 from London Heathrow to Islamabad, has diverted north of the republic.

Belarus is on the most direct track between London and Asian destinations such as Bangkok and Singapore. While the nation’s airspace could normally be avoided, existing “no-fly zones” over eastern Ukraine make routings complicated.

A Ryanair Boeing 737 was flying in Belarusian airspace from Athens to Vilnius on Sunday afternoon when it was ordered to land at Minsk. The pilots were told a bomb threat had been made.

It appears the incident was staged by the government in Minsk so that a Belarusian dissident who was on board could be arrested.

The CAA has also suspended the foreign carrier permit of the Belarus national carrier, Belavia. The airline is currently scheduled to fly three times a week between London Gatwick and Minsk. The next departure, on Wednesday, will be cancelled.

No British carrier operates flights to Minsk.

Further cancellations wil occur if the European Union bans Belavia. The travel data and analytics firm Cirium calculates Belavia serves 20 EU routes from Minsk, including Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Rome.

Several EU leaders, including those of Lithuania and Poland, have called for bans to be imposed.

The Lithuanian prime minister called the incident an “act of state terrorism directed against citizens of the European Union and other countries”.

Ingrida Simonyte said: “A civilian plane and its passengers have been hijacked by military force.

“It is unjustifiable that ordinary international travellers have been held hostage to the regime’s aggression.”

She described the forced diversion as an “unprecedented attack against the international community”.

However, the Monday evening departure from Minsk to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, operated normally.

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