FR4978

So, what’s the problem? A civil aircraft with passengers on-board, on a scheduled flight, flying over a sovereign State was diverted because of an alleged terrorist threat. Aircraft lands safely and in the end most of the passengers continue to their intended destinations.

Well, the case of the forced diversion of Ryanair flight #FR4978, a commercial passenger aircraft over Belarus on Sunday, 23 May 2021, is a matter for grave concern. The aircraft was carrying European citizens and residents between two European Union (EU) capitals.

The track of the Ryanair flight FR4978 from Athens (ATH) to Vilnius (VNO) was posted on Twitter[1]. The Boeing 737-800 was diverted to Minsk in Belarus whilst it was about to start its approach to Vilnius airport in Lithuania.  The Ryanair flight maintained 39,000 ft toward Lithuania before beginning a diversion about 73km from VNO and only 30 km from border.  The Polish registered Boeing passenger aircraft (SP-RSM) was forced to land in Belarus.  

More than 5 hours after the landing of flight FR4978, the aircraft remained on the ground in Minsk.  Whilst the aircraft was on the ground the Belarusian authorities detained opposition activists, Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega.

Was the aircraft hijacked to go to Minsk? Well, there’s no report of force being used on-board the aircraft, so strictly speaking this may not be a hijacking.  The mystery deepens when considering that if the alleged terrorist threat was credible, it would have been far safer to continuing into Lithuanian airspace and land at the intended destination. 

Also, there’s the Belarusian military fast-jet aircraft (MIG 29) that accompanied flight FR4978. This could be considered aggressive intimidation of the Ryanair flight crew.  It certainly limited their flight’s options in respect of the situation.  The military interception of a civil aircraft for political reasons is a serious act and one that can put the safety of passengers in peril. So, whether it’s called a “forced diversion” or a “State Hijacking” it could be in contravention of the Chicago Convention. That’s the basis on which international civil aviation is normally conducted. 

It’s now clear that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)[2] will carry out an independent investigation into this Ryanair flight[3].   Strong condemnation has come from the European Union (EU)[4]. The aircraft operator, the State of Registry, and many of the passengers were from EU Member States. 

If the investigation concludes that officials in Belarus faked a bomb threat to divert this Ryanair flight for political purposes, then this is a gravely troubling act that has horrendous implications for international civil aviation.  No other authorities had knowledge of a bomb threat to this Ryanair Athens-Vilnius flight. The Greek Civil Aviation Authority, as the aircraft took-off from Athens, has stated that it received no bomb warning.

This event is an attack on European democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of movement and safety. The Belarus authorities need to immediately release Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega.

Update 1: EASA issues Safety Directive calling on Member States to mandate avoidance of Belarus airspace.

Update 2: Simillar thoughts: The interception of #Ryanair Flight #FR4978 – legal or not, carriers have been put on notice.


[1] https://www.flightradar24.com/

[2] https://www.icao.int/Newsroom/Pages/ICAO-Council-agrees-to-pursue-fact-finding-investigation-into-Belarus-incident.aspx

[3] https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/05/1092812?123

[4] https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/05/24/belarus-declaration-by-the-high-representative-on-behalf-of-the-eu-on-the-forced-diversion-of-ryanair-flight-fr4978-to-minsk-on-23-may-2021/

Here’s where we are, I think.

May is a month of rebirth. Trees look greener than they do all year round. A fresh breeze and light rain fans this greenness as the natural world wakes up. It’s a good time for looking at life anew.  Sunny spells and showers come and go as we take stock of the spring. 

Worldwide COVID-19 pandemic deaths are up to just over 3.3 million[1].  Despite the successes of its suppression in the UK, the virus continues to rage around the world.  Sadly, desperation continues to spread across India.  On the positive side, vaccination plans are successfully being implemented. I’m more than ready for my second jab in just over a week’s time. 

What hasn’t changed is that aviation chiefs continue to provide roadmaps to bring back some semblance of normal but often sit back mystified at Government reactions and peculiar decisions. 

For international travel, to and from the UK, a curious traffic light system[2] is being put in place in the UK.  Unfortunately, there’s a lack of transparency as to why countries are categorised as they are in this unique national system.  Obviously, it’s better than a national lockdown with unending uncertainty but there’s little to be happy about. 

On entry control, the practice of quarantine hotels is unpopular and of highly questionable effectiveness. They are a crude measure that is discriminating, expensive and unsustainable.

The European Union (EU) has been slow in reaction and is still testing COVID-19 vaccination, test, and recovery certificates.  There are reports that this system is on-track to be rolled out next month.

It’s a miserable time to travel across borders. Plans are made and cancelled and re-made. Travellers are often left out of pocket and in limbo.  Yes, these are extraordinary circumstances but as advanced nations our general performance in managing the situation is remarkably poor. 

Although UK Government decisions are said to be guided by evidence and the science, there’s a fair amount of ideology driving decisions contrary common sense. 

Surprisingly, if the recent round of elections is anything to go by, the UK Government is sitting pretty. Now, its political opponents who are the ones who are struggling.  Commentators have speculated that this is a kind of national Stockholm syndrome[3]. I wonder. 

Post Coronavirus recovery of UK air traffic may not be seen until the end of 2022. 

The EU has developed a broad system of relationships with neighbouring states. Post Brexit there remains lots of loose ends in the relationship between EU and UK.  In fact, it’s probably time to stop using the word Brexit altogether. It’s not a meaningful word looking forward.    

Calls for a Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) and a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA) between the EU and UK are muted but their importance remains.  Aviation and aerospace industry voices are being ignored. 


[1] Worldwide (from Johns Hopkins): Deaths: 3,322,294.  

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/traffic-light-system-safe-return-to-international-travel

[3] What is Stockholm syndrome? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22447726

Flight, Risk & Reflections 17.

One of the harshest years in modern civil aviation history has ended.  Looking for positive news in this New Year takes some effort.  In fact, with the extra lock-down measures and travel banned the situation appears to be getting worse and not better.  Worldwide COVID-19 fatalities have passed 2.1 million[1]. Here in the UK the winter situation is looking grim.  In terms of cases of COVID-19 only US, Brazil, Russia and India have more than the UK.  In terms of fatalities from COVID-19 only US, Brazil, India and Mexico have more than the UK. 

Even in just 3-weeks a lot has been written about Aviation and the new BREXIT EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). Having read many of the public pronouncements available, it’s evident that the complexity of the TCA means there’s a huge amount to be learned and will be learned in its application.  The jury is out as to the level of support that exists for the TCA. 

Here are some useful current references:

  • Brexit advice for travellers:

https://www.abta.com/tips-and-advice/brexit-advice-for-travellers

https://www.iata.org/en/policy/consumer-pax-rights/brexit/

  • Aviation industry comments:

Initial guidance on the draft EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

The ACA Position Paper – EU-UK Trade Agreement 2020.

How the Brexit-deal affects UK/EU air travel and aviation.

How the Brexit-deal affects UK/EU air travel and aviation » AirInsight

How Brexit will Change the Aviation Industry.

GTP Headlines How Brexit will Change the Aviation Industry | GTP Headlines

Consequences of the Brexit Agreement on transport, and especially on aviation.

Consequences of the Brexit Agreement on transport, and especially on aviation – Aviation24.be

Brexit: what the newly announced deal means for aviation.

https://www.gridpoint.consulting/blog/brexit-what-the-newly-announced-deal-means-for-aviation

Solo flight – the UK’s Brexit deal for aerospace assessed.

https://www.aerosociety.com/news/solo-flight-the-uks-brexit-deal-for-aerospace-assessed/

Brexit – will the flying public notice any meaningful difference?

https://www.clydeco.com/en/insights/2021/01/brexit-will-the-flying-public-notice-any-meaningfu

  • Official information:

The UK CAA microsite.

https://info.caa.co.uk/uk-eu-transition/

Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) system. 

https://www.easa.europa.eu/brexit


[1] https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

Flight, Risk & Reflections 13.

Last night, chatting about presentations and simple ways of making them better, I was reminded of: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.  It’s ancient advice about how to persuade an audience of a point of view. The importance is to see a place for all three in a presentation. 

Looking at the day’s news, I see we are still on the brink of a deal. Negotiations drag on and on. Both EU and UK give the impression that they are stretching their negotiating mandates to try to come up with a good solution but time is ticking.

Outside of the negotiating room there remains the task of convincing different audiences that a deal is a good one. So, what of the classical three. In the UK, the media and politicians revel in Pathos. It’s almost as if the other two are consigned to be back seat drivers. For Ethos and Logos, objectivity is a must. Being honest means being factual. Arguing rationally means applying the facts.

Unfortunately, there are only a handful of places to go for that objectivity in the British media. So, it does make a difference to read the foreign media.  For some common sense, I recommend the thoughts of Julian King[1], the UK’s last European commissioner.  I agree that everybody stands to lose out with No-Deal.

This week we carry on with a multitude of unknowns. Only one thing is for sure. Life after 31st December will be different[2]

I do wish press articles would not say: “Otherwise, the U.K would have to strike individual agreements with EU countries to bypass these concerns, ……” Striking individual agreements with non-EU countries is what is happening. Striking individual agreements with EU countries will not happen. The reason for this is that for the major areas of interest the EU has competence[3].

It’s worth noting that the harmonisation of civil aviation requirements and procedures started a long time before the formation of European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).


[1] https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/brexit-the-uk-and-eu-both-need-to-put-aside-emotion-and-cut-a-deal-1.4425580

[2] https://www.politico.eu/article/5-things-to-know-about-post-brexit-aviation-airlines-eu-transition-cargo-travel-passengers/

[3] https://europa.eu/european-union/topics/transport_en

Flight, Risk & Reflections 12.

Ready for anything[1]. It’s a good position to take when no one can predict what might happen next. Such is the uncertainty that prevails. In a month and a bit, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will be reverting to where it was when it was formed in the 1970s. All alone. Before 1972, regulation of civil aviation was the responsibility of the Air Registration Board (ARB). The CAA was established as a “modern” arms length regulator to act in the public interest. It did this successfully and drove European cooperation to become influential and highly respected.

Without agreement, being a British traveller, to and from the European Union (EU) after 1 January 2021 will not be much fun, to say the least. That said, the low levels of international travel in prospect, because of COVID-19 might well mask the full impact of new procedures and lost privileges. Although British passports will not command the seamless freedom of movement we have enjoyed for decades, there maybe some travel bargains to be had in the New Year.

Fishing is one of the roadblocks in UK-EU negotiations[2]. It would be immensely sad, and stupid if agreement on 99.9% of the issues fell based on not being able to compromise on fishing.  Aviation has the potential to lift us all out of economic gloom. Fishing will do no such thing. Publicly embracing failure is not a good strategy for a British Prime Minister (PM).

Unfortunately, the Brexit headbangers are still the Brexit headbangers.  These people exert disproportionate influence. Although it maybe politically cynical, the PM has a large majority in Parliament and the EU remains a bogyman to distract the British people from the pandemic pandemonium, so the No-Deal horse continues to run.  That tired nag should have long since been retired.

Where there is incompetence in Government, the official Opposition should be shedding light on it in Parliament. On Brexit, the largest Opposition Party in the UK is just as much in the mire as the Conservatives. Backing a lastminute deal, if negotiations succeed in coming days, maybe their final kick in the teeth to the 48%.

The UK Government is advising domestic businesses that “getting ready takes longer than you think”. Having given close attention to the last 4-years ups and downs, that warning should be applied to any discussion of British political decision-making. The wind and weather change rapidly over the British Isle and so do the ebbs and flows in and around Westminster. So, it does take a long time for a settled state to arise. Stability is much valued by aviation businesses that need to make long-term investments. Being hit by a double whammy of COVID-19 and Brexit is destroying otherwise viable aviation businesses[3]. But here we are in November 2020, still waiting for a “moment of truth”. 


[1] https://worldofaviation.com/2020/11/uk-working-to-mitigate-brexit-risks-as-deadline-looms/

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-eu-fish/britain-not-accepting-eus-fish-offer-on-brexit-the-sun-idUSKBN2871EC

[3] https://twitter.com/ADSgroupUK/status/1330855509491142657?s=20

Flight, Risk & Reflections 9.

A month back it was said that the UK Government’s post-Brexit proposals on aviation would give Britain an unfair economic advantage[1].  There are no signs that the impasse of that time has been cleared. Far from “Getting Brexit Done” these complex negotiations drag on and on.

I’d penned a few words which have found their way to the delete folder. Now, as COVID-19 gathers pace again, the catchphrase: “We’re doomed!” comes to mind[2]. The BBC sitcom Dad’s Army and Private Frazer’s gloomy: “We’re doomed!” has become a classic moment in British comedy. As we do lock-down again, it captures the moment nicely. 

The sporadic imposition of national lockdowns and country-by-country travel restrictions have been a disaster for aviation. This crazy situation exists for both EU and non-EU States. Although the News of a potential vaccine has created buoyancy, the latest updates on the impact of the pandemic on the aviation industry makes grim reading[3]

COVID-19 is devastating the aviation and tourist industry. Add a clumsy exit to the transition period between UK and EU and it won’t just be lockdowns that keep Brits at home. That said, the more optimistic talkers in the industry big up the idea that an explosion of the desire to party will drive a return to normal air traffic levels next year. This is the upper end of the most optimistic projections.

Across the Atlantic, the fact of the matter is that the most powerful nation on Earth is going through a major transition. The Americans haven’t got over their midlife crisis – yet. Given the massive number of votes cast in the recent elections the margin of victory was surprisingly small. That’s a reminder of the Brexit referendum, here in the UK, if anything is. So, we know from experience there’s no such thing as an instant healing process. Moving to a more multilateral and outward looking vision of the world will take time. 

Meanwhile, what’s astonishing in Europe is UK Brexit supporter’s keenness to take a bad situation and make it even worse.  The UK Government’s Internal Market Bill is a perfect example of a bad apple turning a whole basket of apples bad. To its credit the UK Parliament’s House of Lords recognised the problem and addressed it. Trouble is the House of Commons is likely to ignore common sense and march ever more towards a cliff edge. 


[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/forget-brexit-deal-without-credible-guarantees-on-competition-michel-barnier-tells-uk-6zqp0bblv

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007tlxv

[3] https://www.oag.com/coronavirus-airline-schedules-data

Flight, Risk & Reflections 6.

It’s almost unnecessary to say that there’s little time left to secure an EU-UK deal this year. It’s now October. This week, the European Council has a 2-day Special Summit in Brussels. They meet again at a European Council Summit on 15th and 16th of the month. There’s a European Parliament plenary session between 19th and 22nd October too. Each of these is an opportunity to converge on an EU-UK deal, sign it, and ensure it gets ratified.

It might be apparent from my writings, as well as the media reports that the ups and downs of speculation about any potential deal have reached irritating proportions. One week a positive mood, next week a negative mood while progress on resolving Brexit issues continues at a snail’s pace.

In the UK Parliament, the UK Internal Markets Bill has passed on 3rd reading by 340 to 256 votes. Thus, the intention to break the existing Withdrawal Agreement with the EU has been signalled[1]. None of this peculiar negotiating dance seems to make much difference.  Extra costs, more red tape and shrinking investment continue to plague the UK economy.

When challenged about the growing Brexit costs, UK Government Ministers just say that’s an inevitable consequence of leaving the EU[2]. There’s no longer any attempt to justify new regulations other than to blame the EU.  With the UK planning to break a recently agreed deal, it makes it difficult for Europeans to have trust when ratifying the next one. 

The latest joint statement[3] coming from both side of the negotiation is short, but it does hold out hope for a deal. Trouble is that both sides keep saying the “ball” is in the others court. 

World-wide aviation continues to be buffeted by the coronavirus pandemic[4]. Millions of jobs hang on the line. Not only that but the hospitality and tourism industries are reeling as the downturn shows no sign of ending.

Recently a quote from Paul Everitt (aerospace trade body) summed up the situation with understatement: “It’s not a happy place for us to be.”


[1] https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/internal-market-bill-break-international-law-brexit

[2] https://twitter.com/i/status/1311588865896058880

[3] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_20_1821

[4] https://twitter.com/i/status/1305440885212094465

Flight, Risk & Reflections 5.

In the UK, not only has the amount of flying reduced dramatically but the places people are going has changed. Whereas a year ago long-haul air traffic dominated international passenger numbers that has changed[1]. The breakdown in transatlantic travel is notable. Greece and Turkey are now top destinations. Leisure travel and the international hubs in Istanbul and Dubai are major players. It will be fascinating to see if, over time these changes stick.

It’s a new week and another week of EU-UK negotiations. Brexit talks could be in the final stretch.  The agenda for the 9th round of talks in Brussels includes aviation[2]

The calls for “no compromise” on the part of the hard-core Brexit supporters is far from the reality of what is needed to move the talks forward. EU and UK negotiators both need to compromise to get a workable deal. Unfortunately, even during this pandemic, the culture war rages on in the UK.

It’s likely that the subject of future governance will be more important for the EU after the UK Prime Minister’s announced he was planning to break his word on the Withdrawal Agreement.

The end of the UK transition period with the EU, on December 31 is unmoveable. For British citizens, travel to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein will change from 1 January 2021[3]. What makes this more difficult is that Government guidance is still peppered with the words “might” or “may.” By contrast, a vote of the citizens of Switzerland has just upheld the pillars of its relationship with the EU. Unlike the UK, they will have the freedom to move, live and work in Switzerland and the EU.


[1] https://www.gridpoint.consulting/blog/the-changing-shape-of-the-uk-airline-market

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ninth-round-uk-eu-future-relationship-negotiations-29-september-2-october-2020

[3] https://www.gov.uk/visit-europe-1-january-2021

Flight, Risk & Reflections 3.

“It is the year of turmoil”

Summing up the year so far, upbeat positive words are hard to find. The crisis that has stretched across the globe has left everyone wondering what comes next? What will recovery look like? I’m trying to avoid a melodramatic tone because if we compare this global crisis with others faced by humanity, in the last hundred years, this is not so massive. 

We, industry, Governments and travellers have in the last 60-years of the jet age have become accustomed to a progressively developing model of civil aviation that has increased the opportunity to travel. We recognised that the post-war model for aviation had to change. That was a major part of the ICAO General Assembly in Montreal last year. Global aviation must be made environmentally sustainable. More effort needed to be directed at long-term solutions to satisfy the wish to travel but reduce the environmental impact for flying.

Most large organisations had the event of a pandemic as part of the corporate risk assessment. Unfortunately, for many this was a tick in the box, a presentation and pat on the back job done. 2020’s events have thrown us into a completely different state from the one that was imagined.

Now, not without warning, but at great pace, the imperative has become to ensure the health and safety of passengers and workers in all aspects of civil aviation[1].  The COVID-19 crisis is forcing manufactures, operators and maintainers to rethink their business at every level. Jobs are being lost.

It’s often said that if you must change something big, change one thing at a time. People overwhelm themselves and start making mistakes if you change too many things all at once. Sadly, there’s the dying embers of a macho culture[2] in some parts of business and the political world. The results they produce are often extremely poor.  Over promising and under delivering are fatal to long-term success. 

In a World that made sense, both the UK and the EU would suspend the talks concerning their new relationship, get on with addressing COVID-19 and come back to the table when there was a better view of what the future might bring. Our reality is that a post-Brexit trade deal between UK and the EU seems unlikely at one stage, and then the next day it’s back on and the following day off again. News flits back and fore.

It remains to be seen if UK Prime Minister Johnson has a plan for a No-Deal Brexit. What’s happening is creating uncertainty and volatility day after day and making it hard for everyone. The devastating public health and economic impacts of COVID-19 plus all this turmoil is disastrous.

The UK’s political establishment do seem to be disconnected from reality. 


[1] https://www.eurocontrol.int/sites/default/files/2020-09/covid19-eurocontrol-comprehensive-air-traffic-assessment-14092020.pdf

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machismo

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Flight, Risk & Reflections 2.

The 7th round of UK-EU negotiations has ended. So, here we are. Yet, another week goes by and the heal draggers win again. Instead of rapidly moving forwards towards a conclusion, to be the benefit of all, the situation remains with little progress being talk of[1]. Let’s remember it’s August. Only 4-months to wrap-up a legal text of a UK-EU agreement and to ensure that it’s accepted by the parties. The UK and 27 individual EU Countries must read, understand and ratify it.

The reflections coming from both sides at the table makes sorry reading[2][3]. What a depressing but predictable state of affairs. Reading a few of the comments people make on the current situation, I realise that the debate remains one of immense childishness, in some cases. This is not a game of cards. It’s not a football match. It’s not about victors and the vanquished. Every deal that was ever made, or ever will be made requires both parties to compromise.

Echoes of last year’s electioneering over an “oven ready deal” now look rather foolish. Where’s the UK Prime Minister? If there’s to be a No-Deal BREXIT outcome, then he will need to prepare the Country for it as soon as possible. If Brexit was originally about ending Freedom of Movement, it’s now about a whole lot more. The facts are that a No-Deal BREXIT outcome will make us all poorer. 

Major changes are inevitable, with or without agreement on a new UK-EU relationship. Citizens, organisations and companies need to get ready for 2021.

But it’s still not too late for a sound deal. The deal that can be struck with the EU will be the most important the UK can make in this decade. If it doesn’t strike, at least a basic deal other partners will look on and wonder why? or, in the worst case, see an opportunity to take advantage.  That’s not where anyone sane would want to be. 

In a No-Deal scenario the UK will lose the benefits it has in the European Single Market in Aviation. As if the COVID-19 virus impact wasn’t enough. The aviation industry has taken a direct hit with an estimated one-third of the global fleet grounded at a time that’s normally high season for holidays.

The Coronavirus lock-down measures have pushed the UK into recession, Contraction in the economy has been significant but even the numbers leave much of the story unwritten. On top of this the UK quarantine on Countries, including France is like banging nails into the coffin of the British travel industry. A No-Deal BREXIT outcome will finish the job off.  


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-53854730

[2] https://no10media.blog.gov.uk/2020/08/21/david-frosts-statement-following-the-conclusion-of-round-7-negotiations-with-the-eu/

[3] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_20_1511