Sky Express Hires Former Virgin Exec

Russian discount airline Sky Express said Monday that it hired former Virgin Atlantic Airways commercial director Willy Boulter to help with expansion plans for the domestic market.

Boulter joined Sky Express on May 1 as a strategic consultant to the airline's board of directors, the company said in an e-mailed statement. He held the commercial director's post from 2001 to 2007 at London-based Virgin Atlantic, the intercontinental airline controlled by British billionaire Richard Branson.

Sky Express, controlled by businessman Boris Abramovich, is in "consultations" with Branson about a possible purchase of a stake in Sky Express. Branson said Jan. 31 in Moscow that he was planning to start an airline in the country and was in talks with two or three possible local investors.

He declined at the time to comment on any links to Sky Express.

"We aren't tying it to a stake purchase in Sky Express," Vitaly Korenyugin, a spokesman for the Russian airline, said Monday by phone. "Consultations between Sky Express and Virgin Group are continuing."

Sky Express started operations in March 2006 and flies to nine destinations in Russia from Moscow, including St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Perm and Sochi. The airline operates a fleet of nine Boeing 737s.

The airline is majority owned by Abramovich, who also controls Hungary's former state-owned carrier Malev, and has the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development as an investor.