Armenian Airlines has begun the first phase of its fleet modernisation with a deal to lease a secondhand A310-200, which it expects to be the start of move to a large Airbus fleet.

The deal, which represents Armenia's acquisition of its first Western-built aircraft, will see a Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7R4-powered A310-200 introduced in the middle of this year.

The airline has an option to buy the aircraft as part of the lease deal, and plans to operate 10 Airbus aircraft by 2005.

Armenia's national airline will use the 194-seat A310 on services from its Yerevan base to points within Europe and the CIS, replacing ex-Soviet-built aircraft. Destinations in its expanding European network include Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Paris and Sofia. The airline is also evaluating long haul services to Asia and North America.

The carrier's existing fleet includes two widebody Ilyushin Il-86s as well as some 16 Tupolev Tu-134 and Tu-154 narrowbodies. Armenian's managing director Tigran Achoyan expects that the A310 will offer fuel savings of 35% over the current aircraft, and will replace "three or four" of them.

The move to a Western fleet could also see the introduction of single-aisle Airbus aircraft, which Armenian has been evaluating together with the Boeing 737, to replace its Tupolevs.

Source: Flight International