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Transport Committee holds evidence session on International aviation law: Flight 4978

9 June 2021

The forced diversion of Ryanair Flight FR4978 to Minsk, Belarus, from its planned route of Athens to Vilnius has profound implications for international aviation law, regulation and operations. In this one-off session, the Transport Committee will consider how the UK Government and the international community might respond to the diversion of Flight FR4978.

On Sunday 23 May, Ryanair Flight FR4978 departed Athens, Greece to travel to Vilnius, Lithuania. The plane’s crew was informed of a potential security threat on board and instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk. On board were prominent opposition activist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who were arrested on arrival. Security checks of the aircraft were carried out and nothing sinister was discovered.

The President of Belarus has rejected international criticism that the aircraft diversion was an ‘act of piracy’ or ‘hijacking’ staged to arrest a political opponent. Ryanair has described the incident as a ‘state-sponsored hijacking.’

Belarus is a party to the Chicago Convention and the 1971 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation. The Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization has launched a fact-finding investigation.

In the meantime, the UK Government has issued a notice to advise all UK airlines to cease overflights of Belarusian airspace. Belavia, Belarus’s national airline, also had its operating permit to fly between the UK and Belarus suspended. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has summoned the Belarusian Ambassador to discuss the UK’s ‘deep alarm at the Belarussian authorities’ reckless actions.’ The Secretary of State, Dominic Raab MP, said that “the UK is working with our allies on a co-ordinated response, including further sanctions.”

MPs will consider:

  • What occurred in relation to Flight 4978;
  • The UK Government’s response to the diversion;
  • Implications for international aviation law, regulation and operations.

Witnesses

Tuesday 15 June

At 9.30am

  • Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive, Ryanair

From 10.00am

  • Dr Antonios Tzanakopoulos, Associate Professor of Public International Law, University of Oxford 
  • Dr Miles Jackson, Associate Professor of Law, University of Oxford

From 10.30am

  • Robert Courts, Aviation Minister, Department for Transport 
  • Richard Moriarty, Chief Executive, Civil Aviation Authority The Belarusian Embassy in London has also been invited to send a representative witness

Later on Tuesday (1430), the Foreign Affairs Committee will also consider Belarus, with an evidence session on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Further information

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