KLM to continue flights to Belarus for now; Will resume Tel Aviv flights tomorrow
Dutch national airline KLM said it will continue operating flights to Belarus despite authorities there using an unsubstantiated claim of a bomb threat to force a Ryanair plane in its airspace to land in Minsk. At the same time, Dutch flag carrier announced they would be resuming their flights to Tel Aviv after a temporary halt which was introduced on May 13.
State media in Belarus said the country’s president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, gave the order on Sunday to force a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania to land as part of a scheme to detain opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich. They did this by informing the flight crew that there was a bomb threat made against the flight, and it had to land immediately. A fighter jet was scrambled to escort the passenger flight to the ground.
Once in Minsk, the plane was evacuated, and Protasevich was arrested. The rest of the passengers were allowed to board again without the activist for the remaining portion of the flight. The 26-year old Protasevich was returning to Lithuania from a holiday to Greece and has been detained since then.
"We have consulted all our sources, including the government, and carried out our risk assessment," said a spokesperson for the Dutch airline to broadcaster NOS. "KLM sees no security risk. The operation will continue normally."
Numerous western countries, including the Netherlands, slammed Belarus for diverting the plane as a political maneuver. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called it “unacceptable and unprecedented.” MP Sjoerd Sjoersma argued that no flights from the Belarusian airline Belavy should be allowed to access European airspace.
In wake of the arrest, numerous officials in other countries have called on airlines to stop flying in Belarusian airspace. The Latvian airline Air Baltic stated that it would longer fly over the country for the time being. The company said it will only do so again when the situation is clearer, or when its government comes up with advice.
KLM flights to Tel Aviv resume
KLM will also continue operating flights to the Israeli city of Tel Aviv starting on Tuesday, an airline spokesperson told Nu.nl. Flights will resume under the condition that all sides involved in the conflict in the Middle East adhere to the recent ceasefire.
KLM halted their flights to the region on May 13 in the wake of the worst violence the region has seen since 2014.