Skift Take

Virgin, thorn in the side of every company and every industry they're in, usually for the better for consumers. As Russia visa regulations are opening up, any competition on flights and fares would only result in a tourism boost.

EasyJet Plc CEO Carolyn McCall said the carrier should be awarded rights to fly to Moscow because it would undercut prices offered by Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., which also wants to operate the route.

Europe’s second-biggest discount airline would guarantee a lead-in fare of 125 pounds ($202) for three years on the route, which it would serve twice daily from London’s Gatwick airport, McCall said today at a U.K. Civil Aviation Authority hearing.

EasyJet and Virgin are competing for the right to serve Moscow after the purchase of Deutsche Lufthansa AG’s BMI unit by British Airways-parent IAG created a vacancy. Under a bilateral treaty, two U.K. carriers may serve the route, complementing Russian operators OAO Aeroflot and OAO Transaero.

“They can’t compete with us on fares, they just can’t and it’s disingenuous of them to even try,” McCall said of the Virgin application in an interview after the hearing.

Round-trip tickets on a Virgin Atlantic flight between London Heathrow and Moscow will start at about 130 pounds, spokesman Greg Dawson said by phone. The airline is looking to run a daily Airbus A330 service that would see business travelers arriving in the morning in both cities, he said.

“They’re perfect times for business people to start their day or connect to other flights,” Dawson said, adding that the majority of Gatwick passengers are on leisure trips. “You don’t connect through Gatwick, you connect through Heathrow,” he said.

Short-Haul Focus

EasyJet would serve Moscow with its fleet of Airbus SAS A320 single-aisle planes and does not view the four-hour flight as a departure from its short-haul-focused strategy, McCall said. Existing routes to north Africa and the Middle East are longer than the Moscow leg, though the airline’s focus remains on flights of between 1.5 and 2 hours, the executive said.

“We will always limit the number of four-to-five-hour flights that we do,” she said. “We will choose them carefully, but they are not the bread and butter of the business.”

McCall said that EasyJet carries 5.7 million people a year on flights longer than three hours. Around 21 percent of the airline’s 57 million passengers are travelling for work, with destinations such as Amsterdam, Geneva and Paris drawing close to 30 percent business traffic, she said.

Virgin Atlantic carried 5.4 million passengers across the whole of its network in the 12 months ended Feb. 29.

Manchester to Moscow

Luton, England-based EasyJet would also offer four flights a week to Moscow from Manchester in northern England, McCall said, adding that the combination with London “clearly makes sense” in terms of scale and promotional opportunities. Having a low-cost carrier connecting the cities may also boost leisure demand, she said. A six-month tourist visa to the U.K. would cost a Russian passenger about 78 pounds.

Crawley, England-based Virgin Atlantic specializes in long- haul services beyond Europe, including major cities in the U.S. and Asia and holiday destinations in the West Indies.

“I don’t know why they’re doing short-haul,” McCall said of Virgin application. “It’s just really going to hurt them.”

A decision on the route is expected in the next couple of weeks, Dawson said.

–Editors: Chris Jasper, Chris Reiter.


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Tags: easyjet, moscow, russia, virgin atlantic

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