Russian carrier Aeroflot has put its first Airbus A330-200 into preliminary service on routes between Moscow and St Petersburg, ahead of deploying the type on Asian routes.
It has formally took delivery of the Rolls-Royce Trent 700-powered jet - the first of 10 - at Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport today, but has been using the aircraft since 2 December.
Aeroflot says that its pilots are being backed by Airbus personnel during the initial service entry. The aircraft will be used on routes from the Russian capital to Tokyo and Shanghai from January, and the carrier is also expecting to use them on services to Hong Kong and North America.
"We remain highly committed to our fleet renewal and expansion schedule and continue to build for Aeroflot's future with ongoing aircraft investments," says Aeroflot chief Valery Okulov.
"Our airline is certainly an exception to the rule in the current economic environment. We are weathering any challenges and focus on the overriding economic benefits of a younger and more modern fleet."
The jets are configured in two classes with 34 business-class and 207 economy-class seats. A spokesman for Aeroflot says that the second A330 will arrive later this month and that the airline expects the remainder in 2009 and 2010.
While the carrier originally agreed to take the 10 A330s for interim capacity, ahead of the arrival of Boeing 787s and A350s on order, the spokesman says: "It is becoming a longer-term solution and maybe we will need to look at getting some more if it develops optimistically.
"They are additional to the Boeing 767s we are using on the long-haul routes and they will replace Ilyushin Il-96s, which will operate more on charter flights."
He says the airline has a relatively small long-haul fleet, compared with medium-haul, and adds: "We need to add to our fleet some more long range capability."
The spokesman indicates that Atlanta - the hub of its SkyTeam partner Delta Air Lines - and the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur could become future destinations for the A330.
"We still have to look for the future, we want to be prepared for when the market grows," he says. "We are not going to cut down our fleet expansion programme."