The recent easing of visa restrictions for cultural events makes Russia more attractive to everyone, especially low-cost carriers that appeal to a demographic that would rather not deal with paperwork hassle.
EasyJet is going into battle for the first time with both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic as the three airlines jostle for the right to operate lucrative flights between London and Moscow.
In a growing sign that low cost carriers are invading the turf of long haul airlines, easyJet has applied for the rights to offer 14 flights a week between Gatwick and Moscow.
BA already offers 21 flights a week between Moscow and London Heathrow but is seeking to increase its exposure to the lucrative Russian market by operating services from Gatwick.
Virgin Atlantic, which wants to move into mid and short-haul flights, has applied to operate the 14 weekly services from London Heathrow.
Industry sources say the battle for Moscow will prove a real test for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as it marks the first occasion that easyJet has gone up against both BA and Virgin on what is traditionally long-haul territory.
EasyJet, run by Carolyn McCall, has jousted with BA once before, over the rights to fly to Cairo, but is yet to launch that service.
Ms McCall has been slowing expanding easyJet’s reach outside of Europe and the carrier currently flies as far as Amman in Jordan, giving access to the ancient city of Petra.
The three airlines will supply the CAA with written evidence by September 3 before a hearing is held in early October.
Flights to Moscow will also mark a significant departure for Virgin, which has based most of its services over the Atlantic.
Steve Ridgway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, hopes to operate Airbus A330 aircraft to the Russian capital from next year.
The rights have become available following BA’s takeover of bmi.
The new routes to Moscow come as easyJet is facing a shareholder showdown over its chairman Sir Mike Rake . The airline’s largest shareholder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou has called an emergency general meeting to be held today to vote on Sir Mike’s off the board. Sir Stelios claims Sir Mike is too busy with over commitments.
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