The UK and EU’s bans on flights crossing over Belarussian airspace is “not the way forward” and should not be in place long-term, according to Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary.
O’Leary told MPs today that the Belarussian government’s move to ground a Ryanair flight and detain an opposition journalist was a “state sponsored hijacking”, but that “international air travel depends on all airlines being able to fly over all aviation authorities”.
Belarussian authorities falsely told Ryanair flight 4978 that there was a serious bomb threat last month, forcing it to land in Minsk.
Belarussian authorities went on to detain and imprison Lithuanian journalist, and staunch critic of President Alexander Lukashenko, Roman Protasevich who was on the flight.
The UK and EU both told airlines to stop flying over Belarus, while also banning the country’s airline Belavaia from entering their respective airspaces.
O’Leary told parliament’s Transport Committee that while he agreed with the measures in the short-term that they should not be a long-term policy for either the UK or EU.
“International air travel depends on all airlines being able to fly over all aviation authorities and air traffic controls,” he said.
“We need to have an outcome where the European and UK authorities, hopefully assisted by international partners receive appropriate assurances from Belarussian and/or Russian authorities that this will never happen again so air travel can return to the pre-23 May normal.
“It is a very dangerous territory we’re in if we’re going to start politicising overfly and flying rights over any country, certainly in Europe or in Russia.”
Protasevich has since appeared in videos with bruises reading what is assumed to be a forced denunciation of his previous criticism of Lukashenko.
His arrest is a part of Lukashenko’s wider crackdown on dissent since he won the rigged Presidential election last year.
The election results, which came alongside many examples of vote rigging and election tampering, sparked months of widespread protests in the country.
O’Leary forcefully denounced the actions of the Belarussian government, but said a diplomatic way forward had to be found to stop disruption of flights.
Ryanair has been battered by Covid-19, with the low-cost airline reporting losses of €815m during the 2020-21 financial year.