Austrian Airlines cancels Moscow-bound flight after Russia refuses a reroute outside Belarusian airspace

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Protests on May 24, showing solidarity with Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich.
Image: User:Паўлюк Шапецька.

Austrian Airlines cancelled cargo-passenger flight OS601 from Vienna bound for Moscow's Domodedovo Airport on Thursday after authorities in Russia refused to accept a new proposed route to its capital city which bypassed Belarusian airspace.

Following the grounding of a Ryanair flight on Sunday from Greece to Lithuania; in Minsk, Belarus, over a bomb scare and subsequent arrest of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, the European Union imposed sanctions on Belarus. Many air carriers in Europe including Austrian Airlines have been avoiding to fly over the Belarusian airspace and using Belarusian airports after sanctions were imposed.

An Austrian Airlines official told TASS, because it "has suspended flights over Belarusian airspace until further notice [...] it is also necessary to adjust the flight route from Vienna to Moscow. The change in the flight path must be approved by the authorities. Russian officials did not give their approval to us."

The representative cited a recommendation by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). A recommendation published in a Safety Information Bulletin by the aviation body dated May 25 stated: EASA operators are to "avoid operations in FIR [Flight Information Region] Minsk" unless its use is "deemed necessary", and third country operators "authorised by EASA" do the same "when conducting operations to, from and within the EU" until an international investigation into Protasevich's arrest hasn't completed.

According to The Guardian, Air France was also following an EASA recommendation, and cancelled a flight from Paris to Moscow for the second consecutive day. It was denied permission on Wednesday. Air France has cancelled at least four flights from Paris to Moscow, the BBC reported. An Austrian Airlines cargo flight in Nanjing, China bound for Vienna was also grounded over similar concerns.

The Guardian reported KLM and British Airways had modified routes approved. Along with those air carriers, RT also listed LOT Polish Airlines's modified routes were also approved.

The Foreign Ministry of Austria called Russia's position "absolutely incomprehensible to us", adding, according to Deutsche Welle, that all flights bound for and over Russia should be able to continue without hindrance. According to Interfax, when asked by journalists, Russian Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said "[t]he presidential administration is not in charge of controlling air traffic" and advised the question be posed to "our aviation authorities".

The United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization held an "exceptional session" Thursday on the initial grounding, The Guardian reported. Belarus is accused of violating the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, to which it is a signatory.

According to a May 25 BBC article, European airlines KLM, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines and Finnair announced their suspension of flights over Belarusian airspace. LOT Polish Airlines suspended flights to and from Minsk, and Ukraine banned all carriers from flying over or into Belarus. Singapore Airlines declared rerouting its flights as well.

Belarus' national carrier Belavia has been the subject of many cancellations, including a suspension of its operating permit in the United Kingdom and its suspension of eleven routes to EU cities and one to the Russian city Kaliningrad. Belavia also suspended flights to France and the UK until October 30, the BBC reported.