The aircraft – MSN1853 – carries the similar ‘beluga whale’ paint scheme of the initial airframe, MSN1824, which began its flight-test campaign in July last year.

Airbus had previously indicated that MSN1853 would be the first to enter service, ahead of the test aircraft.

The airframer has already demonstrated that the aircraft is able to fly a set of A350 wings, from Bremen to Toulouse, the primary task for which the twinjet has been developed.

Formally known as the A330-700L, the BelugaXL is powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines and is a successor to the A300-600ST Beluga transport.

This older aircraft was unable to handle more than one A350 wing at a time, and Airbus developed the larger A330-based version in order to cope with A350 production ramp-up.

Airbus has been gradually adapting the operation of its Beluga fleet, ahead of the BelugaXL’s entry into service.

It states that loadmasters have taken over tasks previously performed by flight engineers, adding that this role is being “phased out”.

“New tasks include the safe loading and unloading of major component assemblies, such as fuselage sections and wings,” it adds. Loadmasters work through some 20 loading and unloading cycles as part of the training regime.

Loadmasters communicate with the Beluga crews – from the logistics arm Airbus Transport International – and perform flight clearance for the cargo. The loadmaster is also responsible for opening the main freight door, unloading and handover of the aircraft sections.