Ryanair cleared for takeoff to Russia

Ryanair cleared for takeoff to Russia

Irish carrier may follow other budgets already blazing trail in Russian airspace
Moscow-bound: Cheap flights may be opening up but visas can still be a hassle.

Ryanair, Europe’s largest budget airline, looks set to follow other low-cost carriers into Russian airspace by launching flights to Moscow and St. Petersburg early next year.

Russia’s aviation authority has granted the Irish carrier permission to fly from Dublin to Russia beginning in March 2014, Bloomberg reports.

However, the airline was still in negotiations over which airports it could potentially use in Russia, Ryanair said.

“Ryanair has had discussions with a number of Russian airports, but they are purely exploratory at this time,” the airline’s spokesman, Robin Kiely, said in a brief statement.

Domodevo Airport, to which Ryanair’s competitor easyJet currently flies, was the most likely candidate for the Russian capital, The Moscow Times said.

Third low-cost carrier to Russia

Ryanair would be the third low-cost carrier to launch flights from Europe to Russia.

In March, easyJet began flying to Moscow from London and Manchester.

Hungarian carrier Wizz Air launched flights to the Russian capital in September.

Two Russian operators, the once-derided Aeroflot and Utair, also recently announced plans to launch budget subsidiaries flying within Russia.

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Budget airlines have been put off launching Russian routes in the past by the country’s aviation laws, which prohibit non-refundable tickets, charging for meals and hiring of cheaper non-Russian pilots -- all important elements of the low-cost airlines’ business model.

Such restrictions partly explain the demise of two short-lived Russian budget airlines launched in the past decade, SkyExpress and Avianova.

However, recent backing by Russian president Vladimir Putin for budget flights may be taken as a sign of encouragement by those seeking to change the laws governing airlines flying within Russia.

‘No open-skies policy’

At present, Ryanair is restricted to flying to Russia from one city only -- Dublin.

“This is a bilateral agreement between Ireland and Russia so it’s no open-skies policy,” Alexander Kazbegi, a transport analyst, told Bloomberg.

“If Ryanair wants to fly from other European locations, they need to approach governments there to do a deal with Russia.”

The airline’s entry into the budget Russian club will be taken as good news by travelers who have been discouraged from visiting the country by air fares that have long been relatively expensive.

Travelers to Russia will still have to contend with a famously headache inducing visa-application process, which can take up to a month, requires an invitation from a Russian “host” and includes fees of up to $450.

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