In a surprise development, the UK-based subsidiary of Hungarian low-cost carrier (LCC) Wizz Air has won permission to operate London-Moscow and London-St Petersburg routes.
The LCC has announced the launch of services to Russia from London’s Luton airport to Moscow (Vnukovo) and St Petersburg (Pulkovo). The daily flights will be operated from October 2019 by Wizz Air UK, the UK-based, wholly-owned airline subsidiary of Jersey-registered parent company, Wizz Air Holdings Plc.
Wizz Air’s chief executive Jozsef Varadi first revealed his desire to win designated carrier status for the UK- Russia air travel market regulated by bilateral agreements, in the British media in February of this year. But Wizz Air’s attempts to enter the market initially stumbled over regulatory complications, a factor that was reiterated by Evgeny Ilyin, commercial director of North Capital Gateway, the company which manages St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport, when he confirmed that Pulkovo had been in talks with Wizz Air about opening flights between London and St Petersburg. He pointed out that the project had encountered “restrictions imposed by Russian air transport regulator Rosaviatsiya, which was insisting that the origin of the [financial] capital and the country of registration should be the same and that the majority of Wizz Air UK’s capital was Hungarian.”
“The opening of new flights [from Pulkovo] to London is a landmark event for our airline. We are grateful to the Hungarian government and the Russian authorities for the support shown during the route application process and look forward to passengers on board our aircraft,” Pulkovo airport statement quoted Tamara Valua, director of marketing and communications for Wizz Air.
Wizz Air UK is registered in Great Britain as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Jersey-based parent company Wizz Air Holdings plc, and therefore if Britain were to exit the EU, the airline would then have to change its ownership structure and attract some UK capital investment.
According to existing intergovernmental agreements between Russia and the UK, each country may be represented by only two airlines. On behalf of Great Britain the only airline currently serving the air connection is British Airways, which flies to Moscow and St Petersburg from London Heathrow. However, the British operator has recently declared it will cease services to St Petersburg in October 2019, after 48 years on the route.
In that event, the low-cost Wizz Air UK would become the only operator of the route from the British side. For the budget airline this promises a steady flow of passengers and it plans to operate flights using Airbus A320s and even the A321. However, the shifting of passenger transfer opportunities from Heathrow to Luton will mean a significantly reduced number of convenient onward connections from London.
From the Russian perspective, flights from Moscow and St Petersburg to London are currently operated by Aeroflot and its subsidiary Rossiya Airlines, whilst its other subsidiary, LCC Pobeda Airlines, which used to fly between London and St Petersburg, ceased its international service from Pulkovo altogether from March.
The opening of direct flights between Russia and England will further strengthen Wizz Air’s position in the Russian market. Meanwhile, just a few days ago the airline announced it was launching direct flights from Budapest to Kazan, its first regional destination in the country.
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