Cathay Pacific Airways' bid to begin flights to Moscow next month has met turbulence with unresolved commercial and operational issues delaying the maiden flight to the Russian capital. The new service was pending approval when Cathay in December announced its March 27 launch date. It is still awaiting government consent and with less than two months to go, the management has decided to postpone the launch. The flight was to continue from Moscow to Manchester, England, marking Cathay's return to the key northern commercial centre after more than a decade's absence. 'Preparations for a new service typically need to be completed well in advance of the launch date,' Cathay said yesterday. 'Unfortunately, we continue to await the completion of regulatory formalities regarding Manchester, which is taking longer than originally anticipated, so the airline has made the decision now to postpone.' The airline has been operating a code-share service with the state carrier Aeroflot since June 2004, which operates using the Russian carrier's B767 aircraft. According to an executive involved in the talks, a key hurdle is Aeroflot's lack of traffic rights to fly to Manchester, a fact Cathay management was appraised of only late last month. Cathay would not comment on Aeroflot's bilateral status yesterday but none of the problems are thought to originate on the Hong Kong side. Alexey Sumchenko, Aeroflot's general manager for Hong Kong, did not respond to inquiries this week. Cathay's bid to fly its own aircraft to Moscow has struggled to get off the ground. The service was first announced by former chairman David Turnbull in May 2004 with at least one target date, in July last year, postponed previously. Russian travellers visiting Hong Kong constitute a small but rapidly growing market, making it necessary from a profit perspective for Cathay to include an onward destination such as Manchester. According to the Hong Kong Tourism Bureau, 22,200 Russian citizens visited Hong Kong last year, up 32.6 per cent on the year before. Cathay, which had already begun selling tickets for the service, said it continued to work with its partners in the hopes of resolving the outstanding issues. 'Travel agents have been advised of the postponement,' the carrier said. 'Any passenger who has made a booking to Manchester will be offered an alternative routing through London Heathrow. Passengers booked to Moscow will be able to travel on our existing code-share service operated by Aeroflot.'