Estonian charter flight lands in Minsk despite EU recommendation to avoid

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Piaggio P180 Avanti turboprop, similar to the Panaviatic plane which landed in Minsk. Source: Md Shaifuzzaman Ayon / Wikimedia Commons

Estonian charter airline Panaviatic landed at Minsk Airport Wednesday. The European Union's air safety agency has recommended avoiding flying in Belarusian airspace following last Sunday's hijacking of a Ryanair flight and its forced landing in Minsk.

The EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) made its recommendation Tuesday.

A Panaviatic Piaggio P180 Avanti turboprop plane registered in Estonia landed in Minsk Wednesday, departing the same day.

Founded in 2008, Panaviatic is based at Tallinn Airport and operates eight charter flights using smaller planes, predominantly Learjet models. The P180 can accommodate up to six passengers.

Wednesday's flight left Olsztyn-Mazury Airport in north-eastern Poland, the return flight went to Katowice, also in Poland.

An Air Hamburg flight from the Montenegrin city of Tivat also landed at Minsk Wednesday.

The EASA says Sunday's actions raised questions about Belarusian compliance with international aviation rules, and the authority has launched an investigation into the incident.

It issued a safety bulletin Tuesday which advises both member states' airlines and those of third-countries to avoid Minsk International Airport unless absolutely necessary for safety reasons.

Panaviatic: We had to honor contractual obligations, no unnecessary risks taken

Panaviatic spokesperson Sven Sulg said Thursday afternoon that the flight, VPC3, took place: "In accordance with international civil aviation rules and taking into account current regulatory inputs and airspace restrictions.

"Due to the recommendations imposed by the EASA and the negatively developing situation in this region, an additional risk assessment prior to the flight commencement was conducted by Panaviatic in order to evaluate the risks associated with operating this flight.

"Since at the time of the flight, flights to/from Belarus were not banned by state authorities, and risks were considered as acceptable with precautionary actions in place, the decision was taken to comply with earlier, signed contractual obligations, and to to cancel the schedule to operate the passenger flight," to fulfill the obligations with the customer."

The company said the flight experienced no interruptions or other unusual developments, while it continues to monitor the issue of official information from both state and European institutions regarding further restrictions on operating in Belarus airspace, adding it will operate in strict accordance with international regulations.

EU leaders have called for additional sanctions on Belarus, including restrictions on air services to the country, in response to the forced landing and subsequent arrest of a Belarusian opposition leader who was on board the flight.

On Thursday morning, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said a ban on Belarusian national carrier Belavia landing at any Estonian airport was imminent.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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