An interesting development in the battle between Belarus and the European Union, as former British Airways CEO and current IATA Director General Willie Walsh has condemned the EU for blocking Belarusian flights in its airspace.
IATA Boss Willie Walsh Condemns EU Ban On Belarus Flights
Walsh was the bombastic, union-busting head of British Airways and later International Airline Group (IAG), the multi-national parent company of Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia, and Vueling.
Currently, he is the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Responding to news that the European Union (EU) has blocked both EU carriers from using Belarusian airspace and Belarusian carriers from using EU airspace, Walsh stated:
“Aviation safety must never be politicized. IATA condemned the actions of the Belarus government and called for an independent investigation. Banning European aircraft from using Belarusian airspace with a Safety Directive is also a politicization of aviation safety. 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.”
But the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) says it instituted the ban “to reduce the potential risk to passengers and crews that could arise from operations in this airspace.”
Live and Let’s Fly has also questioned the wisdom of such airspace bans, though for different reasons. While there certainly is a financial impact to such airspace bans, there is also a human consequence, both in the spread of ideas and in the sort of family-to-family contacts that are vital for humanity to flourish.
Walsh condemns the EU, stating its action “politicizes air safety.” While he is correct that two wrongs never make a right, air safety was already politicized when Belarus sanctioned piracy by interdicting a Ryanair flight traveling from Athens to Vilnius and forced a landing in Minsk. While only time will tell whether airspace closures will make any difference, failing to respond to the blatant act of disregard for international norms may have encouraged more bad behavior, which could have produced an even graver consequences than merely politicization of air safety.
Sanctions and restrictions on air traffic always have unintended consequences which must be openly analyzed. But failing to respond in a meaningful way was probably an even worse option.
Do the Willie Walsh Belarus comments resonate or he is totally off-base?