EasyJet sets sights on Moscow as BMI auction nears

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EasyJet will boost competition and lower airfares on the London-Moscow sector if its application to launch Russian services is waved through by the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), chief executive Carolyn McCall said this week.

The low-cost carrier in June requested the right to operate 14 weekly flights between London Gatwick airport and an unspecified Moscow gateway.

Its bid was one of three applications received by the CAA as part of its "scarce capacity allocation" process for Moscow, which will redistribute air traffic rights between the UK and Russia after the looming suspension of BMI's London Heathrow-Moscow Domodedovo flights.

The regulatory process runs parallel to the sale of 14 of BMI's 56 daily slot pairs at Heathrow - 12 of which are being auctioned off by British Airways parent company International Airlines Group (IAG) as a concession for its takeover of BMI.

IAG agreed to auction the "remedy slots" in an effort to allay competition fears over its growing market share at Heathrow following the acquisition.

EasyJet has no plans to bid for the Heathrow slots and is instead asking the CAA to transfer Moscow capacity to its Gatwick base. However, the low-cost carrier has not secured the required landing rights in either city, and is fending off rival bids by Virgin Atlantic Airways and BA.

Despite the headwinds, McCall insists: "We've proved over the years 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.

"The fares on the London-Moscow route are currently notoriously high, with return economy tickets averaging well over £400 ($650) and at times reaching £1,000. EasyJet's low-cost operating model can't be matched by BA or Virgin, enabling EasyJet to make London-Moscow more affordable than ever before, bringing lower fares and greater benefits to consumers."

Alongside EasyJet's Gatwick proposal, Virgin has submitted a bid to operate 14 weekly flights from Heathrow to Domodedovo. The airline says it has already secured the required slots in Moscow, and in May it applied for all 12 of the Heathrow slots being auctioned by IAG.

Virgin also recently signed a codeshare deal with Russian carrier Transaero, which operates twice daily flights from Heathrow to Domodedovo.

British Airways's submission, meanwhile, calls for the renewal of its existing 21 weekly flights from Heathrow to Domodedovo, as well as the introduction of 14 new weekly BA flights from Gatwick to Moscow Sheremetyevo airport.

It says it has obtained the slots at Sheremetyevo, effective 1 January 2013, while it holds "sufficient slots at Gatwick to deliver the proposed service".

The CAA tells Flightglobal: "There will be a hearing on 1-2 October that looks into that process and looks at which is the best option from a consumer perspective. From that there'll be a recommendation and then a decision taken about three weeks after the hearing."

Seven of the 14 Heathrow slots have been ringfenced for Scottish services, while two others have been secured by Transaero for its Moscow route. The remaining five must be used for flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Nice, Cairo, Riyadh or Moscow.