Ireland briefs aircraft leasing firms on possible Belarus sanctions

The world’s leading regional aircraft leasing company is “monitoring very carefully” the human trafficking crisis in Belarus as the EU threatens sanctions targeting airlines and officials involved in the illegal movement and exploitation of people.

Sources close to Nordic Aviation Capital (NAC), which is based in Ireland, said it would “adhere to all restrictions introduced” by government or regulatory authorities and was liaising with its customers “to ensure the highest level of compliance with regulations”.

Ireland is responsible for about half of the world’s leased aircraft, with at least two companies leasing to the Belarusian state carrier Belavia. NAC’s website states it has supplied five planes to Belavia, the last of which, an Embraer E175, was delivered in September last year.

The Irish government confirmed on Wednesday it had held talks with aircraft leasing companies about possible sanctions against Belarus.

“At the invitation of the Department of Transport, officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs participated in an online meeting with representatives of a number of aircraft-leasing companies on 27 October. Officials explained the background to proposed new sanctions on Belarus and answered questions,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Lithuanian government recently called for sanctions against the Belarusian flag carrier after it increased the number of flights between Turkey and Minsk, seen in some quarters as a deliberate measure to transport migrants and refugees directly to the EU border in retaliation against four previous rounds of sanctions.

However, curbs on contracts with any airline found to be involved in trafficking are unlikely.

Last month the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said the government was aware of its responsibilities after Germany called for action on the leasing of aircraft to airlines flying to Minsk.

“I think we would make the distinction between sanctions that would involve no further or future aircraft leasing to Belavia, in contrast to existing contracts that are in place, where there are legal obligations. So this is a difficult area from a legal perspective,” he said.

According to the NAC website, Belavia is the largest air carrier in Belarus, with regular flights from Minsk to 56 airports in 30 countries in Europe and Asia. Other airlines that fly to Minsk include Russia’s Aeroflot and Azimuth, Turkish Airlines, Fly Dubai and the private Syrian airline Cham Wings.

But Belavia dominates. Of the 60 flights listed on Wednesday to arrive at Minsk national airport, 18 involved foreign airlines.

Countries with flights into Minsk include Russia and former Soviet Union states such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, along with Egypt and Turkey.

Pressure to apply restrictions on airlines has been growing since August when Lithuania, Poland, Latvia and Estonia called on EU countries to “jointly use all available diplomatic and practical means to cut the new irregular migration routes at its inception, as soon as possible”. Slovenia said governments should ensure “civil aviation is not instrumentalised by the international smugglers’ networks”.

Belavia has been approached for comment.

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