Ryanair CEO says pilot given no 'alternatives' but to land in Belarus

The pilot who flew the plane that was diverted to Belarus last month was given no other alternatives but to land in Minsk, Ryanair’s CEO has said.

Michael O’Leary told British lawmakers that Minsk air traffic control told the pilot that there was a “credible threat” against the flight and that “a bomb on board would be detonated” if the pilot entered Lithuanian airspace.

“He wasn’t instructed to do so, but he wasn’t left with any great alternatives,” he told members of a Parliament committee.

The flight, which took off from Athens, was diverted to Minsk on May 23 where opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend were arrested.

The captain had asked to speak to Ryanair’s operations control centre, but Minsk air traffic officials told him incorrectly that “Ryanair weren’t answering the phone,” O’Leary said.

“This was clearly a premeditated breach of all the international aviation rules, regulations, safety,” he said.

Once the flight landed, O’Leary said, unidentified people boarded the flight and asked the crew to confirm that they had “voluntarily diverted to Minsk”. The crew refused to provide such confirmation, the Ryanair CEO said.

European leaders have called the Belarus plane diversion a “hijacking” and banned Belarusian airlines from flying in EU airspace. European airlines have been told to stop flying over Belarusian airspace.

But O’Leary said he did not support such flight bans.

“We cannot have a situation whereby airlines, air travel, our customers and our citizens run the risk of being hijacked and diverted under false pretences,” he said.

“But equally, far more UK citizens will be disrupted as a result of long-haul flights between the UK and Asia, for example, now having to fly around Belarus or avoiding Belarusian airspace.”