UN aviation agency to investigate grounding of Belarusian plane, first report due June 25
The United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on Thursday agreed to investigate the forced grounding of a Ryanair passenger plane (RYA.I) in Minsk, an incident that sparked outrage international.
The ICAO board of directors, made up of 36 countries, acted after the United States and several allies demanded an investigation into the incident, which British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab called ” serious violation of international law ”.
ICAO would produce an interim report by June 25, Irish Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said. ICAO said in a statement after the meeting that its council had expressed “serious concern” about the incident.
The investigation will be a factual investigation designed primarily to determine whether international aviation rules have been broken. ICAO has little leeway to punish Member States other than by suspending voting rights.
On Sunday, Belarus scrambled a fighter and used a false bomb threat to hijack the Irish airliner to Minsk and arrest a dissident Belarusian journalist. The plane, traveling from Athens to Vilnius, was almost in Lithuanian airspace when ordered to land. Read more
“These unacceptable actions constituted an attack on European aviation security and endangered the lives of passengers and crew as they traveled between two EU capitals,” said Ryan.
Minsk, now facing calls for sanctions, dismissed accusations he had acted illegally and accused the West of using the episode to wage a “hybrid war” against him.
The council urged ICAO members to cooperate with the investigation.
“They couldn’t just close their eyes,” said a person familiar with the meeting, adding that security had been a key topic.
Two sources close to the meeting said Russia and China both refused to support an investigation.
Russia, which accused the West of hypocrisy, told delegates what happened in Minsk was not an isolated incident and recalled that Washington landed a plane believed to be carrying fugitive Edward Snowden in Austria in 2013, according to sources.
China pleaded for more time to act, one added.
Russian and Chinese diplomats did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Montreal-based ICAO exerts its influence through its safety and security standards, which are endorsed by its 192 member states.
“We wish to remind those who demanded that we take punitive action against this country that our agency has never been given this type of role or capability,” ICAO tweeted Wednesday.
Belarus said at the meeting that the airliner was not forced to shoot down by authorities and the pilot could have landed in Lithuania, a source familiar with what happened said. The source requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.
Under the Chicago Convention, each country has sovereignty over its own airspace, but the treaty prohibits any use of civil aviation that could endanger safety.
A separate 1971 Montreal treaty to which Belarus is also a party prohibits the seizure of aircraft or knowingly communicating false information in a manner that endangers the safety of aircraft. Read more
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