Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson is to appeal to Russian authorities to allow the airline onto the London-Moscow route.

He plans to visit the Russian capital next week in an effort to persuade officials that Virgin should also be able to operate on the London route.

Sir Richard is taking action after the Civil Aviation Authority granted EasyJet the rights to fly from Gatwick to Moscow while allowing British Airways to maintain its service from Heathrow.

The decision meant rejecting Virgin’s bid to replace Bmi on the Heathrow-Moscow route after BA parent International Airlines Group took over the former Lufthansa-owned UK carrier. This came despite BA having to surrender slots at the London hub to competitor carriers.

Sir Richard, describing the decision as “very strange”, said:  “It’s not the CAA’s fault that only two UK airlines are currently allowed – under intergovernmental treaties – to fly the London to Moscow route.  But it is the CAA’s responsibility to protect the best interests of consumers in these circumstances.”

Writing in his blog on the website, he added: “The CAA believe by allowing a carrier at Gatwick to take the route they have opened up a new market.

“In our opinion that wasn’t what the European competition authorities intended when they said BA had to release slots at Heathrow in order to protect competition between London and Moscow.

“BA are going to have huge grins on their faces tonight because they won’t have any competition on cargo, business flights or Heathrow passengers.”

He said: “We could challenge BA with our Upper and Premium Economy offerings and, because we had 125,000 more seats a year, it is likely we would be able to match or offer lower fares than EasyJet, especially when you take into account all the essential extras that you have to pay for on EasyJet but which come as standard with Virgin Atlantic.

“I plan to go to Moscow next week and request that officials allow both Virgin and EasyJet to fly there. That would be in the interest of the consumer. Isn’t that what the CAA is supposed to protect?”