Ryanair CEO calls Belarus landing a ‘state-funded hijack’
DUBLIN – Belarus’ forced landing of a Ryanair airliner in Minsk was “a state-funded hijack”, apparently led by KGB agents, said Michael O’Leary, CEO of the airline group.
“This is a case of state sponsored hijacking and hacking,” O’Leary told POLITICO in a telephone interview. “Our crew did a phenomenal job getting this plane and almost all of the passengers out of Minsk after six hours.”
O’Leary confirmed that the Belarusian target was journalist Roman Protasevich.
“It was clear that the intention of the Belarusian authorities was to dismiss a journalist and his traveling companion. We believe that some KGB agents were also offloaded from the plane, ”he said, referring to the Belarusian state security services which still bear their Soviet-era name.
O’Leary said the airline has been instructed by European security authorities not to describe the event in detail pending their own investigations. He said Ryanair’s initial statement on Sunday night remained true to the basic facts as the plane had just landed in Vilnius.
“We need to do a detailed debrief today with the NATO and EU authorities,” O’Leary said. “It was extremely scary for our crew and our passengers. They were held in armed custody and their bags searched.
Ryanair may temporarily divert its Athens-Vilnius services from Belarusian airspace to Polish airspace. That would add about half an hour to the three hour trip.
Ryanair’s round-trip service operates twice a week on Thursdays and Sundays. The flight is currently crossing the airspace of Belarus, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria to reach Greece. It is the only direct service connecting Athens and Vilnius.
“It’s an option. It will depend on what the EU and other parties involved in the ongoing consultations determine the best course of action given the circumstances, ”said an airline spokesperson.
Air Baltic is already avoiding Belarusian airspace on flights between Latvia and Ukraine and Georgia.