The much-anticipated UK debut of Airbus’ BelugaXL super-transporter aircraft will take place on Valentine’s Day at Hawarden Airport in Broughton.
The exact landing time of the BelugaXL at Hawarden Airport will be announced nearer the time says Airbus.
The XL (extra-large) version of the Beluga plane – so-called for its uncanny resemblance to the adorable marine mammal – even sports a smiling whale’s face livery, voted for by Airbus’ Commercial Aircraft employees.
The distinctive aircraft – the first of five that will eventually replace the current fleet of ST (standard) Beluga transporters – made its maiden test flight from Toulouse last July, streamed live at the Farnborough International Airshow.
However, this will be the first time the BelugaXL has been to the UK as part of its 12-month testing programme.
The XL – which like its ST predecessor will transport aircraft parts, including wings made in Broughton, across Airbus’ European sites – is due to enter service later this year.
The imminent arrival of the BelugaXL to the UK has already begun to create considerable interest on social media channels.
An Airbus spokesman said: “We are very much looking forward to seeing XL land in Broughton for the first time and are conscious that members of the public may want to witness this historic occasion too. Unfortunately, we are not able to accommodate sightseers on the factory site and so would encourage people to head to the Chocks Away Diner by the aerodrome, rather than block the public footpaths or create dangers for themselves and other road users.”
With a wingspan of 60 meters – 35% bigger than of the existing Beluga – along with increased capacity and take-off weight, Hawarden Airfield has been upgraded to a ‘Code E’ aerodrome which has required modifications ahead of the new transporter coming into service.
As well as the resurfacing of the runway, new turn pads have been constructed to both ends of the existing runway.
A huge orange and white ‘blast fence’ has appeared alongside Chester Road in Broughton between the main perimeter fence of Hawarden airport and the runway.
The 200ft long 14 ft high fence now obscures a large part of the runway from public view at a popular vantage point.
It is one of two erected at the airport, the other is at the far end of the runway.
The new BelugaXL with its instantly recognisable ‘smiling whale’ livery, is fitted with two Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines they will pack around 30% more thrust than the General Electric power plants fitted to the current Beluga fleet.
BelugaXL’s greater size enables the new-generation airlifter to accommodate two A350 XWB wings, the current Beluga can only carry one, this will speed up their transport from Broughton to the final assembly line in Toulouse.
Additionally, the BelugaXL’s 30% extra capacity compared to the current Beluga provides potential to meet ramp-up needs to meet customer demand for Airbus jets.
Once in service, the fleet of five BelugaXLs will begin to replace the similar number of Beluga A300-600 which have been in service since 1995.
Each aircraft will perform between 900 and 1,000 flights per year, logging some 1,700 to 1,800 hours annually in servicing 11 line stations at locations across the company’s European industrial network.
A second BelugaXL, which is in the final phases of assembly in Toulouse will be the first into service.