The international aviation industry shaken by the hijacking of the jets in Belarus

The international aviation industry shaken by the hijacking of the jets in Belarus

Global aviation faces its biggest political crisis in years after Belarus scrambled a fighter jet and reported what turned out to be a bogus bomb threat to arrest a dissident journalist, sparking outrage from the United States and Europe.
Some European airlines immediately began to avoid Belarusian airspace, a key corridor between Western Europe and Moscow and a route for long-haul flights between Western Europe and Asia.

Tracking data from Flightradar24 showed at least one Ryanair flight avoiding Belarus, adding hundreds of kilometers to its journey, and Latvian carrier airBaltic said it had decided not to use the country’s airspace “until ‘that the situation becomes clearer ”.

“We, like all European airlines, are now seeking advice from European authorities and NATO,” Michael O’Leary, managing director of Ryanair, told Irish radio Newstalk.

Others, including Chinese and Turkish carriers, continued to fly over Belarus, which charges fees in euros for using its airspace. Each flight brings Minsk in revenue equivalent to around $ 500, or millions each year, a Belarusian official said.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said it had informed its 31 member states of the incident and an air source said the agency had recommended “caution” about the Belarus.

Aviation experts have said that a decades-old system of cooperation now faces a crucial test under the gaze of East-West tensions.

The United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said the incident may have violated a fundamental aviation treaty: 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 on Sunday.

But experts have warned that calls by some Western politicians for the outright shutdown of Belarusian airspace will face difficult obstacles.

Under global aviation rules, neither ICAO nor any country can close another’s airspace, but some, like the United States, have the power to tell their own airlines not to not fly there.

The United States has said it has called for a meeting of the ICAO 36-nation council, which has the power to investigate any situation that hinders the development of international aviation.

“It sounds like a blatant abuse of the [Chicago] Convention. It’s hacking, ”said Kevin Humphreys, a former Irish aviation regulator, of the incident in Belarus.

No regulator

Global airlines have called for an investigation backed by the European Union.

“We strongly condemn any interference or landing requirement of civil aviation operations that is inconsistent with the rules of international law,” said the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“A thorough investigation by the relevant international authorities is needed,” said IATA, which represents around 280 airlines but does not include Ryanair among its members.

It was not immediately clear how an investigation would be organized.

Although highly regulated at the national level and supported by globally harmonized rules to ensure the safety of the skies, aviation does not have a global police officer to avoid constant conflicts over sovereignty.

Although it has no regulatory power, ICAO is at the center of a system of safety and security standards that operates across political barriers, but requires often slow consensus.

The rules are managed by the Montreal-based agency by its 193 members, including Belarus, and ICAO has only rarely been directly involved in issues such as airport security.

ICAO was plunged into contention following a wave of hijackings in the 1980s. At the time, the question was whether to force countries to agree to allow hijacked planes to land on their own. ground.

Humphreys said it would be the first time in memory that the agency would have to reflect on accusations that one of its own member countries forced a plane to land, in what Ryanair’s O’Leary called “a State embezzlement ”.

Belarus said on Monday that its controllers had only issued “recommendations” to Ryanair pilots.

Russia has accused the West of hypocrisy, citing the case of a Bolivian presidential plane forced to land in Austria in 2013 and a Belarusian airliner ordered to land in Ukraine in 2016.

In 2013, Bolivia said President Evo Morales’ plane was hijacked over suspicion that former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, wanted by Washington for leaking secret details of the American surveillance activities, was on board.

But aviation experts have said the freedoms extended to civilian airliners do not apply to presidential or state aircraft, which need special permission to enter the airspace of another. country.

In the 2016 incident, Belarusian national carrier Belavia said it had sought compensation from Ukraine.

Lawyers say any investigation or legal claim would also have to run through a tangle of jurisdictions typical of liberalized air travel: a Polish-registered plane flown by an Irish group between Greece and Lithuania, over non-EU Belarus EU.

Under the Chicago Convention of 1944 – 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 endanger security.

But the right to fly over other countries is contained 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 seizure of aircraft or knowingly communicating false information in a manner that endangers the safety of aircraft.


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