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EU officially bans Belarusian carriers from its airspace & airports over Ryanair forced landing

The EU has imposed a blanket ban on all Belarusian carriers, barring them from entering its airspace. The move comes in the wake of activist Roman Protasevich’s arrest after the Ryanair plane he was in was forced to land in Minsk.

The decision was announced by the European Council on Friday, following consultations between top EU diplomats.

The Council today decided to strengthen the existing restrictive measures in view of the situation in Belarus by introducing a ban on the overflight of EU airspace and on access to EU airports by Belarusian carriers of all kinds.

The bloc’s members will “be required to deny permission to land in, take off from or overfly their territories to any aircraft operated by Belarusian air carriers.” The ban also affects the marketing carriers which sell seats on planes operated by another airline, and will come into force at midnight (22:00 GMT).

The ban on the Belarusian airlines comes two days after the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) upgraded its “recommendation” that European carriers avoid Belarus into a full-blown ban. The EASA produced a “Safety Directive” saying that no EU carriers should come into Belarus airspace except in an emergency.

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Earlier on Friday, the EASA directive came under a broadside from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warning that the move only further erodes flight safety worldwide and creates a dangerous precedent.

“This is a retrograde and disappointing development. EASA should rescind its prohibition and allow airlines to manage safety as they do each and every day – with their normal operational risk assessments,” the IATA chief Willie Walsh said in a statement. He stressed that the international body also condemns the behavior of the Belarusian authorities, which, however, does not justify the EU’s blanket ban.

Two wrongs do not make a right. Politics should never interfere with the safe operation of aircraft and politicians should never use aviation safety as a cover to pursue political or diplomatic agendas.

The May 23 Ryanair plane incident has sent ongoing shockwaves through the international air travel industry. The aircraft, en route from Greece to Lithuania, was forced to land in Minsk over an alleged bomb threat. No bomb was found on board, while the origins and timing of the warning message remain disputed.

Belarusian security services boarded the plane and arrested Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

Protasevich had been sought by Minsk over his part in the editing of the popular opposition Telegram channel NEXTA, which allegedly played a key role in stoking mass protests after the Belarusian presidential election last August. Sapega ended up potentially facing jail too, as she has allegedly been behind the Telegram channel ‘Black Book Belarus’, which leaked private details about members of the country’s security services and their families.

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