Virgin Atlantic wants to start flights to Moscow next year if it can secure the Heathrow slots being given up by arch-rival British Airways following the Bmi takeover.

Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic’s president, said the airline wanted to use Airbus A330 aircraft for daily flights to the Russian capital from 2013. Branson made the announcement during the airline’s launch of new services from Gatwick to Cancun in Mexico.

Virgin wants to obtain all 12 Heathrow slots that are being relinquished by BA owner IAG following the completion of its purchase of Bmi from Lufthansa in March. IAG had to agree to give up these slots to secure approval from the European Commission.

Virgin would be competing against BA on the Heathrow-Moscow route while BA is also leasing two Heathrow slots to Russian carrier Transaero to fly to Moscow as part of the Bmi settlement with the EU.

Steve Ridgway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said: “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.

“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 Heathrow. Moscow would be our third BRIC country and we think it is imperative for British trade that we are operating in these economies.

“Given the increased consolidation in the market and challenging economic environment, we need to develop our network proposition and ability to sell more connecting journeys. Winning the Bmi remedy slots will help us add connectivity to serve a huge number of travellers who have lost choice and the benefits of competition through the BA takeover.”

An independent monitoring trustee, London-based Competition RX, has been appointed by the EC to handle the process to decide which airlines will receive the 12 Bmi Heathrow slots, which all have to be used on certain routes including Moscow. A decision is expected towards the end of the year.

As well as the Russian capital, there are daily slots available to Nice, Cairo and Riyadh. Eight daily slots also have to be used between Heathrow and Edinburgh or Aberdeen.

Edmond Rose, Virgin’s director of commercial and revenue planning, expained the process: “They are open to any carrier to apply for and you submit a business plan.

“You can also offer a monetary amount as part of your bid but the commitments provide that the monetary amount you offer is only a tie-breaker. The monitoring trustee will rank the applicants so if there is a clear number one then no money will change hands.”

Competition RX opened the application process for the 12 slots last week and airlines have until close of business (18.00) on August 23 to submit their bids.

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