The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council has concluded its discussions on the May 2021 incident in Belarus airspace involving Ryanair Flight FR4978, condemning the actions of the Government of Belarus in committing an act of unlawful interference.
The latest updates to the ICAO fact-finding investigation report into the incident benefited from new information and materials following the Council’s initial consideration of the report in January 2022, as well as an interview and audio recordings from the Minsk air traffic controller assigned to the flight.
On May 23, 2021, Ryanair Flight FR4978 en-route from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania diverted to Minsk Airport, Belarus while passing through the airspace of the Republic of Belarus. On arrival in Minsk, two of the flight’s passengers, opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, were arrested by authorities.
The Department of Aviation of Belarus said it had received an email on May 23 which contained a bomb threat purporting to be from Hamas, calling for a ceasefire. However, a ceasefire was already in effect from May 21.
As neither a bomb nor evidence of its existence was found during pre-departure screening in Athens Greece and after various searches of the aircraft in Belarus and Lithuania, the ICAO Council acknowledged that the bomb threat against Ryanair Flight FR4978 was deliberately false and endangered its safety, and furthermore that the threat was communicated to the flight crew upon the instructions of senior government officials of Belarus.
The Council Representative for the Russian Federation meanwhile expressed his State’s strong objection to identifying Belarus as the source of the unlawful interference which took place.
The Council expressed appreciation to the ICAO fact-finding investigation team for its strenuous efforts and comprehensive analysis and reiterated its condemnation of the communication of false information endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight is an offense under the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the safety of Civil Aviation (Montreal Convention).
The Council also recalled that the use of civil aviation in this manner contravenes the spirit of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention), in particular its Preamble and Article 4 in which each contracting State agrees not to use civil aviation for any purpose inconsistent with the aims of the Convention.
In terms of next steps, the Council has directed ICAO to convey the FR4978 report findings to all ICAO Member States, to report the infractions of the Chicago Convention by Belarus to the ICAO Assembly during its upcoming 41st Session (September 27 – October 7, 2022), and to post the report for public and media access on the agency’s website.
It further requested the President of the Council to forward the fact-finding investigation report, and the Council’s related decisions thereon, to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres for consideration and any appropriate action.