By Laurence Frost
PARIS (Reuters) – The chief executive of Wizz Air on Wednesday criticized European governments for banning flights over Belarus in response to an airliner’s forced landing, saying such measures were detrimental to the aviation “a political toy”.
“I don’t think that’s the right answer,” Joszef Varadi told Reuters as the low-cost carrier presented its annual results. “I don’t think aviation should be used as a means of political sanctions.”
Authorities, including the European Union’s aviation safety agency, advised against flying over Belarus after the May 23 incident in which a Ryanair Athens-Vilnius flight was diverted to Minsk and a traveling dissident journalist stopped.
“Nothing happened that would have endangered the safety or security of the flights. I don’t think anyone was in danger for a second,” Varadi said. “This is a political measure. not a security measure. “
European airlines have canceled services to Belarus and are bypassing its airspace, leading to the cancellation of some Air France and Austrian Airlines flights to Moscow, with Russia warning of the delay. authorization of alternative routes.
The overflight ban has little impact on Wizz Air, its CEO said, as its potentially affected flights in Russia are currently on hold anyway due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The proper response to Belarus lies with politicians, he said, “but I don’t think they should use our industry for this”.
The blurring of diplomatic and security considerations could undermine a global aviation industry that is already struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.
“It’s probably the biggest shock since WWII and the industry is dealing with it, but it shouldn’t become a political toy.”
EU diplomats plan to blacklist Belarusian national airline Belavia as the bloc prepares new, larger-scale economic sanctions against Minsk, diplomats said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by Angus MacSwan)