Ryanair plane grounding in Belarus was state-funded hijack, CEO says – fr

Ryanair plane grounding in Belarus was state-funded hijack, CEO says – fr

The managing director of Ryanair Holdings PLC said the airline believed members of the Belarusian secret service were on board one of its airliners when the plane was forced by a Belarusian jet fighter to turn away on Sunday. to the country’s capital, Minsk, calling the incident a “state-sponsored hijacking case” and further alerting the global aviation industry to the rerouting.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko scrambled the fighter, which forced Ryanair’s commercial plane to land as it passed through Belarusian airspace. Authorities then arrested a prominent journalist and opposition activist, before allowing the plane to continue on its journey. The incident sparked an international outcry and raised questions about the legality of the plane’s grounding and the ramifications for the airline industry.
Michael O’Leary, CEO of Dublin-based Ryanair, told Irish radio station Newstalk that “it appears the authorities’ intention was to fire a journalist and his travel companion … we believe some KGB agents were also unloaded at the airport. He said, referring to the Belarusian secret service. The airline would not comment further.

The Irish Foreign Minister said on Monday that he was not sure that Belarusian KGB officials were on the plane, but said five or six passengers had not boarded the plane when he was allowed to continue his regular flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania.

“This would certainly suggest that a number of other people who left the plane were Secret Service,” Simon Coveney, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defense, said on Irish public broadcaster RTE. “We don’t know from which country, but clearly linked to the Belarusian regime.”

A statement on Mr Lukashenko’s official Telegram messaging app said Belarusian authorities had received reports that a passenger plane over the country’s airspace may have explosives on board, and Lukashenko ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the plane to land in Minsk. Neither Mr. Lukashenko’s office, nor the Belarusian Investigative Committee or the Emergency Services Agency responded to requests for comment clarifying the incident, including the timeline of events and what happened. exactly past.

Ryanair, a low-budget airline and one of Europe’s largest airlines, said it was assessing whether or not to continue to fly over Belarusian airspace and was awaiting advice from EU regulators in the area. ‘aviation. Two other airlines, Wizz Air Holdings PLC and AS Air Baltic Corp., have both said they will no longer fly over the country.

Mr O’Leary said the airline was debriefing the crew, saying they had done a “phenomenal job of getting this plane and almost all of the passengers out of Minsk”. Mr O’Leary said the incident was “very frightening” for passengers and crew, saying they were being held in armed custody and their bags searched.

European politicians, including in Ireland, are increasingly calling for a ban on flights over Belarus. Mr O’Leary said his airline would follow the advice of European authorities on whether this should happen.

Write to Benjamin Katz at [email protected]

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