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U.S. urges 'extreme caution' to airlines flying passengers over Belarus

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By Reuters

By David Shepardson and Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON -The U.S. government advised airlines on Friday to use “extreme caution” when flying passengers over Belarus after authorities from that country forced diversion of a Ryanair flight and arrested a dissident journalist on Sunday.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s “Notice to Airmen” does not apply to cargo carriers such as United Parcel Service and Fedex Corp that fly over Belarus.

United Airlines flies a route to India that sometimes is routed near Belarus but no other U.S. passenger carrier typically flies through the former Soviet republic’s airspace.

A United spokeswoman said the airline would “be complying with” the directive and declined further comment.

The FAA did not issue a formal advisory like some other nations did discouraging transit over Belarus. One issue is carriers that avoid Belarusian airspace will need to fly over Russia, requiring Moscow’s approval to change routing.

Still, the FAA note is the latest sign of Western dismay after Belarusian air traffic control informed the Ryanair pilot of a hoax bomb threat and Minsk scrambled a MiG-29 fighter to escort the jetliner down, and then arrested Roman Protasevich, a blogger and critic of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The FAA said airlines should “exercise extreme caution until the agency can better assess Belarus’ actions surrounding the May 23 diversion of a passenger jet and the potential for Belarus to repeat similar actions in the future.”

It added it is “working closely with other U.S. agencies to determine whether any additional measures may be necessary, and will evaluate an international investigation report to determine the risks for U.S. passenger airlines flying in that area.”