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Ryanair plane diverted to Belarus 'had to land there' - aviation experts

By Reuters

<p><body> <p>(Reuters) -The captain of the Ryanair plane intercepted by a Belarusian warplane and forced to land in Minsk after what turned out to be a false bomb threat had little choice but to comply, aviation experts and pilots said.</p> <p>The scrambling of a warplane by Belarus to arrest a journalist, Roman Protasevich, has provoked outrage among Western leaders and prompted several airlines to divert flights away from Belarusian airspace.</p> <p>“If the interceptor directed the Ryanair flight to Minsk, then they had to land there,” said John Cox, a former US Airways pilot who is now an aviation-safety consultant.</p> <p>“Pilots are trained for this, and there are internationally-agreed signals between the interceptor and the airliner,” he said, adding that pilots carry drawings or descriptions of the intercept signals with them on every flight.</p> <p>In the event of a bomb threat aboard, pilots would adhere to instructions on where to land and assume that the intercepting aircraft was there to help. </p> <p>“You don’t question the intention (of an interception) because the assumption is that they’re there on your behalf,” said one pilot at a European airline.</p> <p>“It’s their airspace and you don’t start a discussion with a MiG-29,” said another pilot, referring to the military fighter jet which Belarus scrambled to intercept Ryanair’s plane.</p> <p>While airlines are required to provide passenger manifests for international travel, pilots are not usually informed of who is on board, aviation experts said.</p> <p>The incident has strained a decades-old system of cooperation amid a flare-up of East-West tensions, with the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (<span class="caps">ICAO</span>) saying Belarus’ action may have contravened the Chicago Convention, a core aviation treaty.</p> <p>“We strongly condemn any interference or requirement for landing of civil aviation operations that is inconsistent with the rules of international law,” the International Air Transport Association (<span class="caps">IATA</span>) said on Monday and called for an investigation.</p> <p>But the practicalities of organising such a probe are unclear as aviation, though highly regulated nationally and supported by globally harmonised rules to keep skies safe, lacks a global policeman to avoid constant disputes over sovereignty.</p> <p>Meanwhile, lawyers said any probe or legal claim would also have to plough through a tangle of jurisdictions typical of liberalised air travel: a Polish-registered jet flown by an Irish group between EU nations Greece and Lithuania, over non-EU Belarus.</p> <p> (Reporting by Josesphine Mason, Alexander Cornwell, Tracy Rucisnki, David Shepardson; additional reporting by Conor Humphries; writing by Clara-Laeila Laudette and Tracy Rucinski; editing by Grant McCool)</p> </body></p>