Montreal, 2 February 2022 (TDI): International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has conducted the 225th session of the ICAO Council Member States to consider the ICAO’s Secretariat’s Report on the Fact-Finding Investigation of the events and causes of the diversion of the Ryanair FR4978 on May 23rd, 2021.

Background of the Incident

Ryanair Boeing 737 flight number FR4978 was heading from Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania. When passing through the airspace of Belarus, air traffic authorities of Belarus contacted the said flight.

They apprised that a bomb threat has been received against the aircraft and advised the crew to divert to the Belarusian capital. Despite the fact that said flight was closer to its destined airport at that time.

When the aircraft landed in Minsk, the security forces of Belarus arrested a passenger namely Roman Protasevich along with his Russian girlfriend namely Sofia Sapega. By profession, the man was a Belarusian Journalist, who had once expressed contrariness to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

Both were produced in front of Belarusian Court for trial and are believed to be held under house arrest. Said aircraft was permitted to take off after seven hours, which arrived in Vilnius with a holistic delay of eight and a half hours.

The European Union (EU), NATO, United Kingdom, United States, and other aviation authorities denounced the incident, and also alleged the Russian officials for supporting Belarus.

Justification by Alexander Lukashenko

On May 26, 2021, Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko justified in front of his Parliament that he acted legally but he’s being manipulated by the complicity of the ill-wishers from both inside and outside of the state. Further, he declared that the deliberate blaming of the head of the state in such a way leads to hybrid war.

Legal Investigation

The Lithuanian public prosecutor’s office launched a pre-trial inquiry on May 23, 2021, under the Criminal Code articles of “Aircraft Hijacking” and “Treatment of Persons Prohibited under the International Law.” However, the Polish registration of the aircraft subjects it to Polish Law.

The ICAO Council expressed serious concern over the apparently forced diversion on May 27, 2021, and urged the ICAO Secretariat to conduct a fact-finding inquiry under Article 55 of the Chicago Convention for a future session of the council.

The Fact-finding Report was published by ICAO on January 17, 2022, which has been at the ICAO Council meeting. The report concluded that the bomb threat was “intentionally false,” but could not “attribute the commission of this act of illegal interference to any individual or State.”

Successive Consequences

In Act of ‘False Bomb Threat’, rage and severe sanctions from various states and organizations have been imposed over Belarus i.e.

  • Lithuanian Cabinet banned its to and fro flight operation for Belarus.
  • British Airlines has been instructed to avoid Belarusian airspace.
  • EU held the meeting on May 24, 2021, in which Lithuanian President, Gitanas Nauseda requested the EU to impose economic sanctions over Belarus.
  • While numerous member states recommended unanimously to ban all sorts of flight operations with Belarus. Even a ban on ground traffic from Belarus to Europe has also been requested during the EU summit.
  • EU and EU Aviation Safety Agency opined unanimously to halt the EU Airlines from Belarusian airspace. Furthermore, the EU also imposed sanctions on the technology export to Belarus.
  • Later, on June 04, 2021, the EU imposed economic sanctions on Belarus along with banning the EU airspace for Belarusian Airlines.
  • Supplementarily, the US, UK, Canada froze the assets, state-owned companies, banned traveling and trade as well.
Recent Developments by International Civil Aviation Organization

ICAO Council State Members and official representatives of non–council state members especially Belarus, Lithuania, Poland and Ireland took part in the 225th session of the ICAO Council.

Further, ICAO contracting states i.e. Albania, Belgium, Belarus, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Ukraine attended the session virtually.

The Council thanked the ICAO Fact-finding Inquiry Team for the extensive examination done, as well as the excellent quality of the report provided

The Council expressed concern and distrust about the gaps in the provision of information by Belarus and the contradictions in the evidence available at the time of the investigation in relation to critical aspects of the factual reconstruction of the events.

Further, the Council revealed that the bomb threat against FR4978 was purposefully false,  putting the safety of an aircraft in flight at risk.

By condemning such unlawful practice, the Council reiterated that communicating false information with the flying aircraft endangers its safety and is a dire offense under the Montreal Convention.

Moreover, Council requested the ICAO Investigation Team to keep working with a view to collecting missing facts in light of some newly emerging information relating to the events and timeline of FR4978.

Furthermore, the Council urged all Member States and other important stakeholders to continue cooperating with the ICAO inquiry and asked the Council’s President to eventually transmit the final Fact-Finding Investigation Report to the United Nations Secretary-General.

What is ICAO?

It is a specialized agency of the United Nations and was established by the governments to support their diplomacy on international transport matters. ICAO assists the states in aligning their national legislation related to aviation safety, security, efficiency, capacity, and environmental protection, allowing for the realization of a truly global network.

The platform of ICAO also offers opportunities for advice and advocacy to be shared with government decision-makers by industry groups, civil society NGOs, and other officially-recognized air transport stakeholders for sustainability and frugality.