Britain’s Virgin Atlantic to Enter Russian Air Market

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Jul. 11 – Britain’s Virgin Atlantic Airways will enter the Russian market with daily operating flights between London’s Heathrow Airport and Moscow starting next year, Virgin said on Tuesday. Experts consider the move as positive, but it is unlikely to affect prices.

British Airways was the lone British company to service Moscow until 2006, when British Midland International (BMI) joined the fray. But after a scheduled merger of the two companies takes place, new openings for operating flights will become available.

“The new route [to Moscow] represents its first move in building a broader network including short and mid-haul flying from London Heathrow. Traffic between the two cities has trebled in the last 10 years and demand on the route continues to grow,” Virgin said in a statement.

Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Steve Ridgeway said the airline hopes to take all 12 of the slots opening between Moscow and London, the Guardian reported.

The European commission has said International Airlines Group, British Airway’s parent company, released 14 of the 56 slot pairs it acquired at Heathrow after the purchase of BMI from Lufthansa. Virgin, which had made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to block the deal, expects to win at least some of the remedy slots to allow it to expand into Russia. Two have already been allocated to Transaero, the Russian airline.

“This route is now open for another UK airline following British Airways’ takeover of BMI and we are making preparations to take up these rights early next year. Linking these two cities … will also radically improve competition on the route, giving business and leisure travelers much better choice,” Ridgway said.

Edmond Rose, Virgin’s director of commercial and revenue planning, said Moscow was ideal for Virgin as “its booming market demands the best quality of service for both business and leisure.”

However, experts do not expect ticket prices to change.

The replacement of BMI on the route will not affect the pricing range for passengers, Oleg Panteleyev, chief editor of Russia’s Aviaport aviation news portal, told Kommersant.

“The arrival of Virgin is good news for passengers flying from Moscow to the Western hemisphere. … Virgin is one of the best carriers between Europe and the U.S. and in London it has a big hub,” Boris Rybak, general director of transportation media relations company Infomost, told another Russian daily Vedomosti. “But from the point of view of pricing policies, it’s unlikely anything will change.”

Transaero Spokesman Sergei Bykhal told the daily that the company may become a partner of Virgin, though it will finish the travel season operating flights with partner BMI.

Virgin Atlantic Airways was first started from a troublesome situation, where its future founder Richard Branson and 50 other passengers found themselves stranded in Puerto Rico when American Airlines canceled a flight to the Virgin Islands. He then chartered a 50-seat plane, sold all the tickets for US$39 apiece, and not long after acquired a second-hand 747 to launch an airline in earnest.

Branson built the Virgin Group brand by targeting business verticals “where things are not being run well by other people,” and he remains driven by a compulsive desire to do things the way he believes they should be done, writes Entrepreneur.com.

According to the company, Virgin Atlantic plans to use its Airbus A330 for daily flights from London to Moscow.

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