Belarusian airlines banned from EU airspace after journo’s arrest

Starting from Saturday, Belarusian air carriers’ will be banned from flying over the European Union (EU) airspace and also using runways in response to the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight and detention of a dissident journalist and his girlfriend last month.

The 27 countries are obliged “to deny permission to land in, take off from or overfly their territories to any aircraft operated by Belarusian air carriers”, the bloc announced on Friday after member states envoys in Brussels formally signed off the move.

Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega were on board a commercial flight between EU countries Greece and Lithuania that was rerouted on May 23 to Minsk shortly before it reached Vilnius due to an alleged bomb threat, reports dpa news agency.

No bomb was found, but both were detained.

The bloc slammed the act as an affront to both air safety and freedom of the press.

The EU has also called on all bloc-based carriers to avoid flying over Belarusian territory.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) condemned Minsk’s behaviour but also criticized the EU.

“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,” Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, said in a statement.

The bloc is also preparing a package of economic sanctions on individuals involved in the incident, but this could still take some time to finalize, according to dpa’s diplomatic sources.