Final and Sixth Beluga XL Rolls Out at Airbus

Airbus has rolled out the sixth and last of its Beluga XL freighters at the production facility in Toulouse, France. Based on the A330-200 platform and boasting a special livery, this plane joins a quintet of similar aircraft assisting Airbus in meeting production schedules at its various plants across the globe.

The Final Super Transporter

The concluding Airbus Beluga XL, also known as the ‘super transporter,’ marks the end of a production run consisting of six airplanes. Unlike its five predecessors, each displaying a consistent livery barring their fleet numbers (1-5), the final aircraft showcases a modified external color scheme.

This latest addition features Airbus’ standard house tail colors, logo, and the ‘Airbus Beluga XL’ fuselage titles present on the other five planes. However, it also carries the additional text ‘Also flying outsize cargo to your destination’ and a unique ‘winking eye’ motif on the left side of the forward fuselage.

Beluga XL
Photo: Airbus

Currently, the sixth Beluga XL is preparing for its maiden flight, scheduled to occur within a few days. Its entry into service is expected in the latter half of 2023.

The Beluga XL: An Oversized Freight Carrier

Launched officially in November 2014, the Beluga XL program was initiated in response to Airbus’s evolving logistical transport needs. This new generation aircraft, derived from the Airbus A330-200 airliner platform, replaced the previous Beluga ST transporter, whose job was to ferry aircraft components between Airbus factories and assembly plants across Europe.

Beluga XL
Photo: Airbus

The Beluga XL had its first flight in July 2018 and entered service in February 2021 with Airbus Transport International (ATI), the logistics division of the European aerospace group.

Before the Beluga STs, Airbus relied on a fleet of four Super Guppies, a turboprop freighter developed by Boeing in the 1960s. However, their limited cargo capability led to their replacement by the Beluga ST, which now gives way to the Beluga XL fleet.

Unmatched Capabilities of the Beluga XL

Being seven meters longer and one meter wider than the Beluga ST, the Beluga XL can boast of a 30% increase in load capacity. Thanks to improved loading systems, the Beluga XL’s turnaround time is approximately one hour, nearly halving that of the Beluga ST.

One of the unique features of the Beluga XL is its large cargo door located above the flight deck, which allows easy loading of whole wings and large sections of fuselage into the enormous cargo compartment. According to Airbus, the Beluga XL can carry two completed wings of the A350 XWB, while the Beluga ST could only manage one.

Read more about the Beluga XL: Airbus Beluga: A Marvel of Engineering and Design

Joining a Busy Worldwide Fleet

Beluga XL
Photo: Airbus

Soon, the final Beluga XL will join the ATI fleet, operating between 11 European destinations, gradually replacing the five-member-strong Beluga ST fleet. However, the Beluga ST fleet isn’t retiring yet. They are being phased into another operational division of ATI – Airbus Beluga Transport (AiBT), launched in July 2022.

While AiBT initially focused on missions for other Airbus divisions, it plans to accommodate an increasing number of external commercial customers as the Beluga XLs take over the primary role of transporting commercial airplane components for Airbus. By February 2023, AiBT had already filled nearly 50% of its slots for the rest of the year, catering to many requests for outsized cargo transportation missions worldwide.

Discover more from Aviation for Aviators

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.

You May Have Missed