EasyJet beats Virgin Atlantic in bid for Moscow slots

Substantially cheaper flights to Russia from London will be on offer next spring after easyJet beat Virgin to win the Moscow slots freed up by the takeover of BMI by British Airways.

The decision will be a blow to Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, which had made a strong public play for the right to fly to Moscow. Virgin indicated it would not rule out legal action over the decision.

The Civil Aviation Authority, which under a bilateral agreement with Russia has the right to decide on two British airlines for the route, announced it had chosen easyJet along with BA as a “distinctly different product” for the market. EasyJet promised return fares starting from £125.

The slots were made available after BA’s purchase of BMI from Lufthansa left the national carrier in sole possession of all the Moscow slots, with BMI having been the only other British airline flying to the Russian capital. After a hearing, a CAA board panel decided to allow BA to continue to operate the services it runs from Heathrow to Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, and to grant easyJet rights to fly to Domodedovo from Gatwick.

Iain Osborne, the CAA’s director of regulatory policy, said: “On balance, allocating scarce capacity to BA and easyJet is likely to deliver the greatest benefit to consumers. EasyJet’s proposal will introduce an innovative product into the market and has the potential to deliver the greatest dynamic fare benefits for consumers.

“We concluded that easyJet’s proposal would introduce a distinctly different product as well as satisfying and stimulating consumer demand that is currently under served, in particular for people who prefer or are content to use Gatwick,” he added.

EasyJet will operate an 180-seat Airbus A320 on two services a day and expects to fly more than 230,000 passengers in its first year of operations.

Carolyn McCall, chief executive of easyJet, said: “We believe this is the right decision for consumers both in the UK and Russia. We believe that our flights will be popular with both business and leisure travellers alike. EasyJet has proved again and again that when we enter a new market we open it up – bringing in competition and lower fares and enabling more people to travel on the route.”

A Virgin spokesman said: “We are very disappointed with the result which flies in the face of what the consumer wants and our economy demands.”

“There will be a major shortage of capacity for UK business travellers seeking to trade with one of the world’s fastest growing economies.”

It said it would be reviewing the decision and would not rule out legal action. The CAA understands that BA will continue with its current schedule.

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