(Corrects spelling of CEO’s first name in second paragraph)
By Laurence Frost
PARIS (Reuters) – The chief executive of Wizz Air criticised European governments on Wednesday for barring flights over Belarus in response to the forced landing of a passenger plane, saying such moves made aviation “a toy of politics”.
“I don’t think this is the right response,” Jozsef Varadi told Reuters as the low-cost carrier presented its full-year results. “I don’t think aviation should be used as a means for political sanctions.”
Authorities including the European Union Aviation Safety agency advised against overflying Belarus after the May 23 incident, in which a Ryanair Athens-Vilnius flight was diverted to Minsk and a travelling dissident journalist arrested.
“Nothing has happened that would have jeopardised flight safety or security. I don’t think anyone was unsafe for a second,” Varadi said. “It’s a political measure. This is not a safety measure.”
European airlines have cancelled services to Belarus and are skirting its airspace, leading to some cancelled Air France and Austrian Airlines Moscow flights as Russia warned of delayed clearance for alternative routes.
The overflight ban has little impact on Wizz Air, its CEO said, because its Russia flights that could be affected are currently suspended anyway due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The appropriate response to Belarus is up to politicians, he said, “but I don’t think they should be using our industry for that”.
Blurring diplomatic and safety considerations could undermine a global aviation industry already struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.
“This is probably the single biggest shock since the Second World War and the industry’s dealing with it, but it should not become a toy for politics.”
EU diplomats are planning to blacklist Belarusian national airline Belavia as the bloc prepares wider-ranging new economic sanctions against Minsk, diplomats said on Tuesday.
(This story corrects spelling of CEO’s first name in second paragraph)
(Reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by Angus MacSwan)