Belarus’s forced landing of airliner sends shock waves through industry.
Some airlines in Eastern Europe began diverting their planes to avoid Belarus airspace on Monday, a day after that country’s leader sent a fighter jet to force down a Ryanair flight, allowing the authorities to seize an opposition journalist on board.
The shocking move has unleashed a storm of criticism against Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the Belarus president who has clung to power despite huge protests last year. The European Union is considering penalties against the country.
At least two airlines said that they were diverting flights away from Belarus airspace as a precaution, but most carriers seem to be waiting to be told what to do by the European authorities.
In an interview on Monday with an Irish radio broadcaster, Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, condemned the actions of the Belarus authorities, who ordered the plane, flying from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, to land in the Belarus capital of Minsk and then arrested a dissident journalist on board, Roman Protasevich, and his companion.
“This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking, state-sponsored piracy,” Mr. O’Leary told interviewers on Newstalk.
Mr. O’Leary, however, said he was waiting for instructions from European Union authorities in Brussels about whether to steer other flights away from Belarus.
“We, like all the European airlines, are looking for guidance today from the European authorities and from NATO,” he said.
He added that it would be an easy matter for his flights to avoid Belarus. “We don’t fly over Belarus much,” he said. “It would be a very minor adjustment to fly over” Poland instead, he added. Ryanair, a discount airline based in Ireland, describes itself as Europe’s largest airline group.
Other airlines are already making changes.
AirBaltic, the Latvian national airline, said that its flights would avoid entering Belarus airspace “until the situation becomes clearer or a decision is issued by the authorities.” The rerouted flights include ones from Riga, the airline’s home base, to Odessa in Ukraine and Tbilisi in Georgia.
Another airline that flies in the area, Wizz Air, said that it would alter the path of a flight from Kyiv in Ukraine to Tallinn in Estonia so as to skirt Belarus.
“We are continuously monitoring and evaluating the situation,” a spokesman for Wizz Air, which is based in Hungary, said.