World aviation faces its biggest political crisis in years after Belarus launched a fighter jet and fired what turned out to be a false bomb alert to arrest a dissident journalist, sparking outrage from the United States and Europe. .
Some European airlines immediately began avoiding Belarus airspace, a key corridor between Western Europe and Moscow, and a route for long-haul flights between Western Europe and Asia.
Flightradar24’s tracking data showed at least one Ryanair flight avoiding Belarus, adding hundreds of kilometers to its journey, and Latvian airline AirBaltic said it had decided not to use the country’s airspace “until situation is clearer ”.
“We, like all European airlines, seek guidance from European and NATO authorities,” Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief executive, told Newstalk Irish radio.
Others, including Chinese and Turkish companies, continued to fly over Belarus, which charges euros-denominated fares for using its airspace. Each flight carries revenue from Minsk equivalent to about $ 500, which adds up to millions each year, a Belarusian official said.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said it had notified its 31 member states of the incident and an airline source said the agency had recommended “caution” over Belarus.
Aviation experts said a decades-old co-operation system now faces a crucial test under the glare of east-west tensions.
The United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said the incident could violate a basic treaty on aviation: a part of the international order created after World War II.
“ICAO is very concerned about the apparent forced landing of a flight by Ryanair and its passengers, which could contravene the Chicago Convention,” he said Sunday.
But experts warned that calls by some Western politicians for the final closure of Belarus airspace would face tough obstacles.
Under global aviation rules, neither ICAO nor any nation can close another’s airspace, but some, like the US, have the authority to tell their own airlines not to fly. .
The United States said it had convened a meeting of the ICAO council of 36 countries, which has the power to investigate any situation that hinders the development of international aviation.
“It simply came to our notice then [Chicago] Convention. It’s piracy, “said Kevin Humphreys, a former Irish aviation regulator over the Belarus incident.
World airlines called for research backed by the European Union.
“We strongly condemn any interference or requirement for the landing of civil aviation operations that is inconsistent with the rules of international law,” the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.
“A thorough investigation is needed by the competent international authorities,” said IATA, which represents some 280 airlines but does not include Ryanair among its members.
It was not immediately known how a probe would be organized.
While highly regulated nationally and backed by globally harmonized rules to keep the sky safe, aviation does not have a global police force to prevent constant disputes over sovereignty.
Although it has no regulatory power, ICAO is at the heart of a system of security standards that operates across political barriers but requires an often slow consensus.
The rules are managed through the Montreal-based agency by its 193 members, including Belarus, and ICAO has rarely been directly involved in issues such as airport security.
ICAO was embroiled in a wave of kidnappings in the 1980s. The question at the time was whether to force countries to agree to hijacked planes to land.
Humphreys said it would be the first time in memory that the agency had to reflect on allegations that one of its own member countries had forced a plane to land, in what Ryanair O’Leary called “kidnapping sponsored by the State “.
Belarus said on Monday that its controllers had only issued “recommendations” to Ryanair pilots.
Russia accused the West of hypocrisy, citing the case of a Bolivian presidential plane forced to land in Austria in 2013 and a Belarusian airliner that ordered it to land in Ukraine in 2016.
In 2013, Bolivia said then-President Evo Morales’ plane had been diverted on suspicion that former U.S. agency contractor Edward Snowden, wanted by Washington to divulge secret details of U.S. surveillance activities , was on board.
But aviation experts said the extended freedoms on civilian aircraft do not apply to presidential or state aircraft, which need special permission to enter another country’s airspace.
In the 2016 incident, the Belarusian national company Belavia said it had asked for compensation in Ukraine.
Lawyers say any polls or legal claims should also go through a tangle of liberalized air travel jurisdictions: a plane registered in Poland piloted by an Irish group between EU nations Greece and Lithuania, over Belarus not belonging to the EU. EU.
Under the 1944 Chicago Convention, also known as the Convention on International Civil Aviation, each country has sovereignty over its own airspace, although the treaty prohibits any use of civil aviation that could jeopardize security.
But the right to fly over other countries is enshrined in a parallel treaty called the International Air Services Transit Agreement, of which Belarus is not a member.
A separate 1971 treaty that includes Belarus prohibits the confiscation of aircraft or the conscious communication of false information in a manner that endangers the safety of aircraft.