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World must prevent repeat of Belarus incident, airlines chief says

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PARIS/LONDON -The head of a group representing most global airlines welcomed an international investigation into the forced landing of a Ryanair jetliner in Belarus and said the world must ensure such incidents never happen again.

“That sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable and must be strongly condemned. We must have measures to ensure that can’t happen again,” Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, told Reuters.

The United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreed on Thursday to investigate the forced grounding.

Belarus has said it was responding to a bomb threat. Walsh said evidence suggested the threat had been manufactured.

“I don’t think the world could have just stood back and allowed what happened last Sunday to go by without some form of protest,” Walsh said in an interview.

Many airlines have since re-routed around Belarus, which straddles a corridor linking western Europe to Moscow, or beyond to Asia.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has advised domestic and foreign airlines to avoid Belarusian air space.

Asked about the impact on airlines of having to fly around Belarusian air space, Walsh said it was “not unmanageable but difficult” during the pandemic when many long-haul flights have far fewer passengers than usual.

In a more normal period of demand, route changes can require more fuel which might mean allowing fewer passengers or less cargo on board, he added.

Any further efforts by Belarus’ closest ally Russia to prevent airlines from using its own air space to bypass Belarus would be more worrying, he said.

Russia’s federal aviation agency Rosaviatsiya has notified airlines that changes to routes from Europe to Russia due to a political row over Belarus may result in longer clearance times, issues described by the Kremlin on Friday as “technical”.

The RBC news outlet reported late on Thursday that Russia would allow European flights to arrive and depart via routes that bypass Belarusian airspace despite Moscow previously denying access to two carriers that skirted Belarus en route to Moscow.

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