Virgin Atlantic wants to take over the London-Moscow route from EasyJet, according to founder Richard Branson in an interview with the Sputnik news agency.
Branson said the company became interested after EasyJet announced plans it would stop flying to Moscow next year.
“We are actually looking at possibly trying to fly to Moscow at the moment because EasyJet has just stopped flying, so we are actually thinking about maybe taking their license and flying to Moscow… So that’s possible,” he said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
EasyJet, the only budget airline flying between Moscow and London, announced in September it was planning to end flights to Russia in March 2016 due to lack of demand, instability in the Russian economy and the tightening of the visa approval procedures.
According to the Russian-British inter-governmental agreement on flights between the two capitals, each country may be represented by a maximum of two carriers. Currently, they are Aeroflot and Transaero from Russia and EasyJet and British Airways from the UK.
In 2012, Virgin Atlantic lost the bid to EasyJet to fly to Moscow.
Last year, Virgin Atlantic reported revenue of £2.9 billion (about $4.4 billion), and flew over six million passengers.
EasyJet Plc will halt flights between London and Moscow as ticket sales are hurt by the combination of a slowing Russian economy and stricter visa-approval procedures.
EasyJet will suspend operations on March 21, while continuing to monitor the situation with a view to resuming the service should demand pick up, the Luton, England-based company said in a statement Friday.
Europe’s No. 2 discount carrier has been flying to Moscow from London Gatwick airport since 2012 after being awarded route rights ahead of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. Russia’s economy shrank 4.6 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, while the ruble is down 45 percent against the dollar in 12 months.
“The decision has been taken in response to the significant and sustained reduction in demand,” EasyJet said.
With only two carriers from the U.K. and two from Russia permitted to fly between London and Moscow under air-services accords, the move could ultimately jeopardize EasyJet’s route rights. A review of permissions would be prompted if another airline applied, spokeswoman Anna Knowles said.
IAG SA’s British Airways also serves Moscow, while Aeroflot PJSC, Russia’s largest airline, and Transaero Airlines, the second-biggest, hold reciprocal rights. A planned merger of the two could allow another Russia operator to start services.