On the day it officially flew into the FTSE 100, easyJet yesterday launched flights from London to Moscow in a move the Government hopes will boost trade between the two countries.
The low-cost carrier will directly compete with British Airways on the route, which it won over rival carrier Virgin Atlantic after guaranteeing the Civil Aviation Authority that flights would cost no more than £125 for three years.
Ahead of next year's Sochi Winter Olympic Games and the 2018 football World Cup, the Trade minister Lord Green said the twice-daily flight would help "present excellent opportunities for UK businesses".
He added: "Russia is currently our fastest-growing major export market and its recent accession to the World Trade Organisation is making it easier for UK businesses to trade and invest there. Improved air links are vital for British exporters looking to expand into Russia."
An airspace treaty means that two British airlines can serve the Moscow route, and a slot arose when International Airlines Group, owner of BA, bought BMI and Lufthansa, meaning it was the sole UK carrier between the countries.
The route – easyJet's 100th to operate from Gatwick airport – had seen higher than anticipated demand, easyJet said, particularly for flights from Moscow to London.
Although protracted negotiations meant that easyJet only secured the right to land in Moscow last week, the airline expects to fly more than 300,000 passengers between London and the Russian capital each year.
Simon Burns, the Aviation minister, said the new flight "shows the network of London airports can bring in new routes at the benefit of business and tourist passengers".
But he said his presence at Gatwick to celebrate the flight did not mean he was backing the airport for South-east expansion.
Mr Burns said: "I will wait for the findings of the independent commission on the South-east's airports to report."