LOT Polish Airlines is launching new direct business flights between Vilnius Airport and London City Airport on Wednesday.
Lietuvos Oro Uostai (Lithuanian Airports), the operator of Vilnius Airport, says the new route is key to improving the Lithuanian capital's connectivity to major financial centres and its image.
The link is also expected to give a boost to tourism, transport and service sectors.
LOT will operate a twice daily service between Vilnius and London City on weekdays and one daily flight on weekends during the summer season.
Lithuanian Transport and Communications Minister Rokas Masiulis has said the business community has been asking for the route for several years.
“It's very important that businesses can travel to and from Vilnius at a convenient time. We hope that the service will not cost the state any money if flights are sufficiently full,” he said.
According to the minister, the route will be supported under a special aid mechanism, the first of its kind in Europe. It took two years for the Lithuanian government to convince the European Commission to allow such a mechanism.
The more seats are sold on each flight, the less it will cost the state, Masiulis said.
Economy and Innovation Minister Virginijus Sinkevicius has said that state aid will not exceed €3 million annually.
Lietuvos Oro Uostai had been trying to attract an airline to fly passengers to London City for several years. Last November, the state-owned company said it had awarded the five-year contract to operate the service to LOT.
Currently, Lithuania's three international airports in Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga are only serviced by budget carriers – Hungary's Wizz Air and Ireland's Ryanair.
Paris and Munich in the future
The new service between Vilnius and the British capital will help Lithuania to attract London-based companies after Brexit, Economy Minister Sinkevičius believes.
“This is one of the priority flights. Nine flights already connect Vilnius to London, but this flight was key to meeting the needs of investors,” he said at a news conference.
Sinkevičius said Lithuania might, in the future, finance flights to other destinations important for business passengers, such as Paris and Munich.
“Paris, then a direct flight to Munich. But we have a list of at least eight destinations that are needed and where we see a potential for development,” he said.