Airbus carried out the maiden flight of its second BelugaXL on Monday.
BelugaXL – the A330 based transporter is the successor to the current BelugaST which has flown between Airbus Broughton and the plane makers assembly lines in Europe for over 20 years.
The second BelugaXL will enter service ahead of number one BelugaXL – the flight-test aircraft – and be the first to begin carrying wings from Airbus Broughton to European assembly lines.
BelugaXL 2 took off from Toulouse yesterday morning for a flight lasting around 5h 30min.
[Screengrab from Flightradar24 showing BelugaXL 2 over Toulouse]
The first BelugaXL made a brief appearance in the skies above Flintshire on Saturday for only the second time since its maiden flight last July.
The plane was spotted flying over Flintshire at around 4.30pm en route to the Airbus base at Toulouse following a series of tests at Shannon airport in Ireland earlier today.
[Screengrab from Flightradar24 showing BelugaXL over Pontybodkin at around 4.30pm]
It’s understood the BelugaXL crew carried out crosswind training and rejected take-offs (RTOs) as part of the certification process which will see plane carry out around 1000 hours flight testing.
Jude Maloney captured these pictures as BelugaXL flew over Denbighshire on Saturday towards Flintshire.
— HeyJude (@JudeMal) April 13, 2019
BelugaXL made its debut in Flintshire on Valentines Day with a spectacular landing at Hawarden Airfield, it was followed by two days of testing at Airbus Broughton.
Production of BelugaXL aircraft continues to advance as planned the planemaker has said, Airbus has decided to “future proof” the company’s internal transportation network by adding another BelugaXL to the overall fleet as reported by Deeside.com last month.
— Shannon Airport (@ShannonAirport) April 13, 2019
This expansion from the originally-targeted number of five airlifters to a new total of six will ensure the capacity provided by BelugaXLs – highly modified A330 jetliners tailored to carry large airframe components within the Airbus aircraft production network – can accommodate a range of potential future scenarios.
Bertrand George, head of the BelugaXL programme at Airbus.
“Years from now, we could see situations such as further rate increases for our jetliners or may encounter one of the airlifters being grounded, which would make this ‘extra’ sixth aircraft an essential part of our transport network,”
The no. 1 BelugaXL performed its maiden take-off in July 2018 and is now being used in compatibility and verification tests at locations across Airbus’ European industrial network – including an initial trip during February carrying a set of A350 XWB wings from Bremen, Germany to Toulouse, France.
This month, the second transporter was painted at the Toulouse facility.
The BelugaXL will officially enter service later this year, and by 2023, the six aircraft will be fully operational, replacing Airbus’ existing fleet of A300-600ST Super Transporters, also known as Beluga STs.
“This, however, does not suggest the five Beluga STs’ end, and their future is currently under consideration,” Airbus said.
Philippe Sabo, head of the Airbus Transport International subsidiary, said:
“While the BelugaXL programme advances toward certification, Beluga STs continue to perform their airlift duties. “They have delivered the necessary capacity, and in some months, we have flown up to nearly 1,000 hours with the fleet.”
Reflecting on the decision to increase the number of BelugaXLs, Sabo recalled the similar step that occurred with its predecessor: “The Beluga ST programme went through the same decision-making process, and I am sure we would not have coped without the fifth aircraft – which was added in 2001,” he stated.
With the BelugaXL soon to be operational, the proven Beluga STs are far from being written off.
These original oversized cargo transporters could continue flying for another 10 to 20 years, so there are possibilities of a second operational life. “There is some way to go before we know for certain, but the first-generation airlifters might be flying much more widely,” according to Sabo.
He said two scenarios are under initial evaluation. “We know that companies have the need for super transporters…so selling them is an option; we’re also considering offering the other Airbus divisions and external customers an outsized transport service ourselves,” Sabo concluded. “You could say we’re considering ‘releasing the Beluga STs into the wild!’”