U.K. billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. said it aims to begin services to Moscow next year using operating slots at London’s Heathrow airport relinquished by British Airways parent IAG.
Virgin plans to offer daily flights using Airbus SAS A330 wide-body jets should it secure takeoff and landing positions that European Commission regulators have ordered BA to surrender after its takeover of Deutsche Lufthansa AG’s BMI unit.
“Linking these two cities will be an important part of our strategy to run short-haul flights into Heathrow, thus feeding our long-haul network,” Chief Executive Officer Steve Ridgway said today in a statement. “Our core flying has always been across the Atlantic but we will also continue to grow our routes to emerging markets if given the slots at London Heathrow.”
Virgin intends to apply for all 12 slots at Heathrow due to be given up by BA, its biggest competitor at Europe’s busiest airport, spokeswoman Joanne Foster said. The Crawley, England-based carrier would use at least seven of the openings for flights from Scotland to replace vital feeder traffic that had been provided by BMI, with which it had a code-share agreement.
Russia would be the third BRIC country served by Virgin, along with China and India, and would also further the carrier’s strategy of offering more connections with its trans-Atlantic services from destinations to the east and south.
The purchase of BMI by British Airways, which merged with Spain’s Iberia last year to form International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, secured 42 Heathrow slot pairs, excluding those to be surrendered, or 51 percent of the total.
Of the slots to be given up, IAG said March 30 that seven are to be used for flights to Edinburgh and/or Aberdeen and five for services to those destinations or Nice, Cairo, Moscow or Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. A further two pairs will be leased to Russia’s OAO Transaero Airlines, also for services to Moscow.
Virgin Atlantic announced its Moscow plans following its inaugural service to the Mexican tourist city of Cancun.