VILNIUS – Lithuanian Transport Minister Marius Skuodis expects the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to take further action after the findings of its investigation into last May's forced landing of Ryanair's Athens-Vilnius flight in Minsk are published in November.
During his visit to Montreal, Skuodis met with ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano and members of the Council, and other representatives of the organization, the Transport Ministry said in a press release on Monday.
"This year, we have repeatedly faced incidents of civil aviation being used for illegal or unprecedented objectives," it quoted the minister as saying at the meetings.
"First of all, we are attaching great importance to the ICAO investigation into the forced landing of a Ryanair plane in Minsk. We expect timely submission of a final report of the organization’s investigators in November," he said.
"The actions taken by the organization once the findings of the investigation are disclosed are also extremely important".
Skuodis "reiterated full national support and involvement" in the investigation.
There are other worrying signs that international civil aviation is often used as a means of organizing illegal immigration, the minister said, referring specifically to illegal migration across the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, which has also expanded to the neighboring countries of Latvia and Poland.
"There are suspicions of such migration being organized by using the airlines of other countries," he said.
On May 23, Belarus' air traffic controllers instructed Ryanair's pilots to land the aircraft with 126 passengers in Minsk because of "a potential security threat on board". A fighter jet was scrambled in the incident.
Raman Pratasevich, a Belarusian blogger, and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were detained after the flight landed in Minsk. A check of the plane did not reveal any explosives.
In the wake of the diversion, Lithuania asked the ICAO Council for a thorough and objective investigation of the incident under the Chicago Convention.
The ICAO's fact-finding investigation team in charge of the international investigation "visited countries related to the incident and gathered information, data and facts to reconstruct the sequence of events of this incident", according to the ministry's press release.
In August, the team met with Lithuanian, Polish and Belarusian officials.
"The ICAO FFIT investigators are analyzing the material provided by all institutions and countries and are planning to concentrate on inconsistencies detected in the declarations of the countries while providing facts of the incident and the sequence of events," it said.
Belarus' actions drew condemnation from many Western countries and international organizations.
In response to the forced landing of the Ryanair flight, the EU banned Belarusian carriers from its airspace and airports and later adopted sectoral sanctions against Minsk.
The Lithuanian Prosecutor General's Office has launched a pre-trial investigation into the incident. The hijacking of the Ryanair aircraft is also being investigated by law enforcement bodies in Poland, where the plane was registered.