Several airlines have already announced they would follow suit after European Union leaders demanded that they avoid overflying Belarus. The request comes in response to the interception and diversion of a Ryanair flight on May 23, 2021, to arrest a Belarusian opposition journalist.
In the late evening of May 24, 2021, the 27 member states of the European Union asked their airlines to avoid the overflight of Belarus and demanded “the immediate release” of journalist Roman Protassevich and his partner Sofia Sapega, arrested the day before.
On May 25, 2021, Air France announced the overflight of Belarus by its aircraft was suspended, while those “already on the way will see their flight plan modified.” KLM and Finnair also decided to follow the recommendations of the European Union. LOT Polish Airlines and Austrian Airlines announced the suspension of their flights to Minsk.
Wizz Air, airBaltic, Scandinavian had preemptively asked their flights to avoid Belarus on May 24, 2021. Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) took the same decision after flight LH1487 from Minsk (MSQ), Belarus, to Frankfurt (FRA), Germany, was thoroughly searched by Belarusian agents over “the potential threat of a terrorist act.”
The British Civil Aviation Authority suspended foreign carrier permits held by Belarusian air carriers indefinitely. It also issued a notice to all UK-registered airlines requesting that they avoid overflight of any territory of the Republic of Belarus. British Airways had to change the path of its flight towards Kuala Lumpur (KUL), Malaysia.
Almost 2,000 aircraft carry out commercial flights cross the Belarusian airspace every week, according to Eurocontrol. The Belarusian state-owned airline Belavia operate around 20 flights every day from or to 35 EU airports.
On May 23, 2021, Ryanair’s Boeing 737, registered as SP-RSM, operating flight FR4978 from Athens (ATH), Greece, to Vilnius (VNO), Lithuania, was intercepted by an armed Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet. Upon landing in Minsk (MSQ), Protasevich and Sapega were arrested by the KGB, the Belarusian security services.
Protasevich is the co-founder, and former editor-in-chief of the Nexta information channel, particularly active during the recent protests in Belarus which started in May 2020, following the sixth reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko. According to the exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Protasevich may face the death penalty.