The EU has banned Belarusian carriers from its airspace and airports over the forced landing of Ryanair flight FR4978 and arrest of the opposition activist Raman Pratasevich.
EU ambassadors agreed during a meeting on Friday to require member states to deny the country’s carriers landing and taking off rights and forbid them from overflying the territory of the 27 member states from Saturday.
The European aviation safety agency (EASA) has also issued a directive which effectively bans EU aircraft from flying over Belarusian airspace or landing on its territory.
The twin move follows last month’s denunciation by EU heads of state and government of the interception of the Athens-to-Vilnius flight on 23 May on which Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega were passengers.
There is growing concern over Pratasevich’s health after appearances on video in which he exhibited signs of abuse while apparently confessing to crimes against the Belarusian state.
Willie Walsh, the former chief executive of the owners of British Airways and now director general of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), said he was concerned about the politicisation of air travel.
“Banning European aircraft from using Belarusian airspace with a safety directive is also a politicisation of aviation safety,” he said. “This is a retrograde and disappointing development. EASA should rescind its prohibition and allow airlines to manage safety as they do each and every day, with their normal operational risk assessments.
“Two wrongs do not make a right. Politics should never interfere with the safe operation of aircraft and politicians should never use aviation safety as a cover to pursue political or diplomatic agendas.”
Under other measures the EU leaders agreed last month, a range of economic sanctions will be applied against those involved in the incident. European diplomats are expected to finalise the list of officials and entities to be targeted next week,
They are also drawing up proposals for broader economic sanctions, which could come into force later in the month and include the country’s fertiliser industry and its sale of bonds.
The EU imposed sanctions on nearly 60 Belarusian officials last year, including the country’s president Alexander Lukashenko and his son Victor, after the crackdown on peaceful protests against last August’s allegedly rigged presidential election result.