The United Nations aviation agency said it was “deeply concerned” by the apparent forced landing of a Ryanair airliner (RYA.I) in Belarus, as global airlines called for an investigation into the rare Sunday incident.
Aviation executives reacted with shock after Belarus scrambled a fighter and reported what turned out to be a false bomb threat to force a Ryanair plane to land, before arresting a reporter from opposition that was on board.
The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has said the incident may have violated a fundamental aviation treaty, which is part of the international order created after World War II.
“ICAO is deeply concerned about the apparent forced landing of a Ryanair flight and its passengers, which may be in violation of the Chicago Convention,” he said.
“We look forward to more information being officially confirmed by the countries and operators concerned. “
Airlines have joined a wave of government protests.
“We strongly condemn any interference or landing requirement of civil aviation operations that is incompatible with the rules of international law,” said the International Air Transport Association.
“A thorough investigation by the competent international authorities is necessary. “
Aviation experts have said the rare incident could fuel debate over the resilience of a decades-old cooperative system.
ICAO has no regulatory power, but is at the center of a system of safety and security standards that keep most airways open beyond political barriers. These are managed by the Montreal agency by its 193 member states, including Belarus.
“It sounds like a blatant abuse of the (Chicago) Convention. It’s hacking, ”Kevin Humphreys, a former Irish aviation regulator, told Reuters.
He added that he “would not be surprised” if some airlines bypass Belarusian airspace pending further details, but stressed that each would make their own threat assessment.
“People in the industry will be worried,” he added.
Belarus is an important corridor between Europe and Moscow or Southeast Asia and Europe, according to Flightradar 24.
Lawyers say Sunday’s flight was emblematic of a tangle of jurisdictions sharing a delicate coexistence in aviation – involving a Polish-registered plane flown by an Irish group between EU nations Greece and Lithuania, over non-EU Belarus.
Under the Chicago Convention of 1944, each country has sovereignty over its own airspace, although the treaty prohibits any use of civil aviation that could endanger safety.
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 on the list of members. Non-treaty members allow overflights under varying rules.
A separate 1971 treaty that includes Belarus prohibits the seizure of aircraft or knowingly communicating false information in a manner that endangers the safety of aircraft.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said it was “monitoring the situation from a safety perspective”.
This isn’t the first time that a brutal hijack has fueled diplomatic tensions, but the first in memory that a commercial flight governed by civilian treaties has been involved, Humphreys said.
In 2013, Bolivia said President Evo Morales’s plane was hijacked on a flight from Russia and forced to land in Austria over suspicions – later denied – of the agency’s former contractor. US spy Edward Snowden, wanted by Washington for leaking secret details of US surveillance activities. , was on board.
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