Billionaire Branson Plans to Enter Russian Air Market

Billionaire Branson Plans to Enter Russian Air Market

By Lyubov Pronina and William Mauldin

Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) – U.K. billionaire Richard Branson said he plans to compete in Russia’s air travel market to offer ``better’’ services for consumers, and may name a local partner in three months to introduce his Virgin brand in the country.

``We’re looking to take on the airlines here,‘’ Branson said at an investor conference in Moscow today, adding that he’s in talks with two or three possible investors from Russia.

Air travel in Russia, a country that spans 11 time zones, is growing at more than 10 percent a year, according to government figures. Russian airlines, led by state-controlled OAO Aeroflot, have been leasing more aircraft, starting routes and forming international partnerships to meet growing demand.

Sky Express, a Russian discount airline, and Branson’s representatives have held talks and may reach an agreement over the next two months, Vitaly Korenyugin, a spokesman for the Moscow-based carrier, said in a telephone interview today. Discussions included development of low-budget travel in Russia, though the form of any partnership has yet to be identified, Korenyugin said.

Branson’s aviation holdings include London-based Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. and Brisbane-based Virgin Blue Holdings Ltd. A U.S. airline in which Branson holds a stake, Virgin America Ltd., began flying in August, and the entrepreneur said Jan. 21 that he’s may start a domestic Indian carrier.

A Virgin carrier will be the best airline here in Russia,'' Branson said today. There’s a lot of potential to take business away from the rail service.‘’