Ryanair CEO says pilot had no choice but to land in Belarus

Ryanair CEO says pilot had no choice but to land in Belarus
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The CEO of Ryanair airlines on Tuesday said that the pilot of the flight that was diverted to the Belarus capital Minsk last month had no other choice but to change the flight path at the time.

Michael O’Leary, Ryanair CEO, made an appearance before a British Parliament committee to provide evidence related to the May 23 incident, according to The Associated Press.

O’Leary said that the flight crew was warned by Minsk air traffic control that if the plane entered Lithuanian airspace “a bomb on board would be detonated.”

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He also reportedly revealed that despite the captain's multiple requests to communicate with Ryanair’s operations control center, Minsk air traffic told him that “Ryanair weren’t answering the phone,” even though that was not true.

Last month, Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko deployed a fighter jet to intercept the European airplane due to a Belarusian opposition journalist, Roman Protasevich, being on board the flight. The journalist was arrested upon landing.

“This was clearly a premeditated breach of all the international aviation rules, regulations, safety,” O’Leary told the committee on Tuesday, according to the AP.

He then said that the flight's pilot was placed under “considerable pressure” to land the plane in Belarus.

“He wasn’t instructed to do so, but he wasn’t left with any great alternatives,” he said.

According to O’Leary, once the plane was on the ground, multiple unidentified people entered the plane and began video recording.

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“[They] repeatedly attempted to get the crew to confirm on video that they had voluntarily diverted to Minsk,” he told the Parliament committee, according to the AP.

In May, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Union Commission, called the flight’s forced landing “utterly unacceptable.” Other leaders in Greece and Lithuania condemned Lukashenko's actions and called for consequences.

O’Leary reiterated that accountability should be taken for the incident but said that he would not be in favor of long-term flight bans in the area, the AP reported.

“We cannot have a situation whereby airlines, air travel, our customers and our citizens run the risk of being hijacked and diverted under false pretenses,” he said. “But equally, far more U.K. citizens will be disrupted as a result of long-haul flights between the U.K. and Asia, for example, now having to fly around Belarus or avoiding Belarusian airspace.”