Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, never at a loss for words, has argued pilots of Ryanair flight 4978 made a “fundamental error” by flying to Minsk instead of continuing to Vilnius. He called the episode a “hijacking” and yet insisted Qatar Airways would continue to fly over Belarusian airspace.
Qatar Airways CEO Blames Minsk Hijacking Incident On Pilot Error, Will Continue To Overfly Belarus
Al Baker was interviewed over the weekend by Bloomberg.
The forced landing of a Ryanair jet flying over Belarus “is something [that] should have never happened,” says Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker.
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) May 31, 2021
It’s that last point that I want to start with. Al Baker says that Qatar Airways will continue to fly over Belarus:
“As far as we are concerned, for us business as usual. If we feel we need to overfly Minsk to reach our destination, we will because we don’t like to bring our business, airline business, and mix it with politics.”
For a smart man, I find this statement quite naive. Not because I condemn his decision to overfly Belarus, but because the idea that you can separate business and politics is simply not plausible.
Belarus gains revenue when planes use its airspace. By avoiding Belarusian airspace, Belarus suffers financial consequences. While I question whether a Belavia flight ban is helpful, I do believe the intentions are noble: state-sponsored piracy and hijackings will not be tolerated.
Al Baker himself calls the incident a hijacking. Continuing to use Belarusian airspace is a political statement. It’s also a calculus: what would have happened if the captain of FR4978 simply refused to land and insisted he was continuing to Vilnius?
Would he he have been shot out of the sky in a modern-day Korean Air 007 incident?
Al Baker: “Fundamental Error” By Pilot To Land In Minsk
Al Baker calls the decision to land in Minsk a “fundamental error” that will “create a precedent for other countries to do the same when there is someone on a plane that they want.”
“I think the pilot made a fundamental error by not continuing to Vilnius because that was a closer airport than Minsk. However, from what I understand, there was some kind of communications from air traffic controllers that made him go to Minsk.”
Belarus has released a partial transcript of conversation between FR4978 and air traffic control. It purports to show that Belarus did not force the pilot to land in Minsk but rather the pilot made the decision himself.
I find it disingenuous that Al Baker calls the incident a hijacking, has not even reviewed the air traffic control transcript, yet blames the pilot for trying to do the greatest good for the greatest number by diverting to Minsk with a MiG-29 escort.
Qatar Airways will continue to fly over Belarus. Would that keep me from flying Qatar Airways? Absolutely not. It’s a risk I am comfortable making, especially with the world spotlight on Belarus following the last hijacking. Nevertheless, I find it curious that Al Baker would call the incident a “fundamental error” by pilots. While the flight likely could have continued to Vilnius had it simply ignored ATC instructions, that is not a risk the pilot was wiling to take…and I don’t blame him for it.