The Council of the European Union has adopted a regulation banning all Belarus-flagged carriers and aircraft from conducting operations to and over the bloc as of June 5, 2021.

Regulation 2021/907 was adopted as a formalisation of guidelines issued by the European Council, a separate body comprising heads of EU states and governments, on May 24, 2021. The non-binding recommendations sought to penalise Belarus for the forced May 23 diversion of a Ryanair B737-800, en-route from Athens Int'l to Vilnius, followed by the arrest of two opposition journalists who were on board.

While the recommendations were not binding, several EU member states - including all three of Belarus's EU neighbours - Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland - and non-EU member Ukraine - unilaterally banned all Belarusian carriers. The move effectively cut off Belarus carriers from the EU as they have only been able to enter and leave the country eastward via Russia.

The regulation does, however, allow exceptions in the event of emergency landings and humanitarian operations. The ban also covers all flights operated by Belarusian airlines as marketing carriers, effectively stopping them from code-sharing on any services to the EU. According to the ch-aviation schedules module, flag carrier Belavia had a single code-share agreement wherein it placed its code on services to the EU, namely with LOT Polish Airlines on services to Warsaw Chopin.

Belavia is the only Belarus carrier that operates scheduled flights and was the only one that regularly flew to the EU. Other carriers that had been authorised to fly to the EU by EASA included cargo specialists Genex, BySky, Rada Airlines, and Rubystar Airways.

On June 2, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) also ramped up its sanctions on Belarus, upgrading its earlier non-binding safety information bulletin prohibiting overflights above Belarus to a binding safety directive. The regulator ordered all carriers under its jurisdiction (which covers all EU and EFTA countries) to avoid Belarusian airspace except for emergencies. The vast majority of EASA-regulated carriers already did so after the May 23 incident. The directive is not binding for airlines registered outside EASA's jurisdiction, including Russian, Chinese, and American carriers.

Airline organisation IATA labelled the upgrade from a non-binding bulletin to a binding directive "a retrograde and disappointing development", which shows the influence of politics on the aviation industry.

"Aviation safety must never be politicised. IATA condemned the actions of the Belarus government and called for an independent investigation. Banning European aircraft from using Belarusian airspace with a Safety Directive is also a politicisation of aviation safety. EASA should rescind its prohibition and allow airlines to manage safety as they do each and every day - with their normal operational risk assessments. Two wrongs do not make a right," IATA Director General Willie Walsh said.

"EASA will monitor the developments in relation with this case and will adjust the recommendations accordingly. Such reviews will be done whenever the circumstances will require it and in any case at intervals not exceeding one month," the regulator added.