Belarus Committed a 'Premeditated Breach' of International Rules by Diverting Flight: Ryanair CEO

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said there was a "premeditated breach" of global aviation rules and regulations when a plane carrying an opposition Belarusian journalist was diverted into Minsk in May.

O'Leary spoke to a British Parliament committee Tuesday about the altered flight, which was supposed to trek from Greece to Lithuania before Minsk air traffic control contacted the plane with claims that "a bomb on board would be detonated" once they entered Lithuanian airspace. Raman Pratasevich, the journalist, was arrested once the plane landed in Belarus.

O'Leary testified the plane's captain asked multiple times to speak with Ryanair's control center, but Minsk air traffic control claimed they weren't answering calls. He also said the pilot was put under "considerable pressure" to land in Minsk rather than an alternative country, like Poland.

"He wasn't instructed to do so, but he wasn't left with any great alternatives," he told members of the Parliament committee.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Ryanair Plane
Ryanair flight FR1884 from London Stansted lands in Humberto Delgado International Airport a day after Great Britain announced Portugal reverts to "amber list" during the COVID-19 pandemic on June 4 in Lisbon, Portugal. A Ryanair flight headed to Lithuania was diverted to Belarus in May, and an opposition Belarusian journalist was subsequently arrested. Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

After the plane was on the ground, several "unidentified persons" boarded the aircraft with video cameras, according to O'Leary.

They "repeatedly attempted to get the crew to confirm on video that they had voluntarily diverted to Minsk," the Ryanair executive said. The crew refused to provide such confirmation, he said.

Western countries have called the forced diversion a brazen "hijacking" by Belarus. Outraged European Union leaders swiftly slapped sanctions on the country, including banning Belarusian airlines from using the airspace and airports of the 27-nation bloc and telling European airlines to skirt Belarus. U.K. authorities took similar actions.

O'Leary said he did not support continuing such flight bans in the long term.

"We cannot have a situation whereby airlines, air travel, our customers and our citizens run the risk of being hijacked and diverted under false pretenses," he said. "But equally, far more U.K. citizens will be disrupted as a result of long-haul flights between the U.K. and Asia, for example, now having to fly around Belarus or avoiding Belarusian airspace."

Belarus Protesters
Belarusian residents in Portugal wear protective masks as they stage a protest in Praça Rossio against the detention of Roman Protasevich and other journalists by Belarus government during the COVID-19 pandemic on May 30 in Lisbon, Portugal. Roman Protasevich, former editor of the opposition Nexta channel on Telegram, has been in police custody in Minsk after his Ryanair flight from Greece was diverted and forced to land in Belarus capital airport in what has been denounced as a "state hijacking." He was put on Belarus's list of "individuals involved in terrorist activity" in 2020, and if found guilty of causing mass unrest faces up to 15 years in jail. Horacio Villalobos-Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images