Posted: Tue 11th Jun 2024

Airbus completes BelugaXL Fleet as sixth and final aircraft enters service

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

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The final BelugaXL aircraft has joined Airbus Transport International’s (ATI) fleet, marking the completion of a significant chapter in the aerospace giant’s logistical capabilities.

The last BelugaXL has joined its five predecessors after serving as the program’s test platform since 2018.

ATI, an Airbus subsidiary that has been the company’s internal airline since 1996, now operates six BelugaXLs, the first of which made its debut at Hawarden airfield on 14 February 2019.

The XLs are the successors to the iconic A300-600ST Beluga—a regular sight in the skies above Deeside for two decades—providing a 30% increase in payload capacity.

This payload increase is pivotal for Airbus as it accelerates production across its European sites, including Broughton, which is ramping up A320 wing output.

Built in Toulouse, the BelugaXLs are designed to carry large sub-assemblies and components between Airbus’ manufacturing plants in Broughton, France, Germany, and Spain.

The efficiency of these missions is notable, with each turnaround averaging just 70 minutes thanks to specialised loading facilities.

The BelugaXL program, launched in 2014, centralised around 1,000 Airbus engineers and suppliers “to streamline processes and shorten decision-making loops.”

Bertrand George, who led the development, reminisced about the project’s challenges and triumphs.

“We created the BelugaXL, but also what we called the BXL spirit – making the impossible possible,” he said.

Reflecting on the first flight, George described the transformation of the aircraft.

“What was a truck in the morning was an aircraft by the afternoon,” he recalled.

This emotional milestone was a testament to the hard work of thousands of people and countless hours.

After its initial test phase, BXL#1, the first airframe, underwent significant refurbishment and is now ready for service.

The aircraft had completed over 800 flight test hours, ensuring it could handle operational conditions across 11 European destinations.

Each BelugaXL, based on the A330-200 freighter, boasts a payload capacity of 51 tonnes and a range of 2,200 nautical miles.

The aircraft is large enough to carry the largest A350 fuselage sections or two of the widebody’s 30-metre-long wings, a notable improvement over its predecessor.

ATI’s BelugaXL fleet is expected to reach 9,500 flight hours annually by 2027, compared to a planned 6,500 flight hours in 2024.

The fleet is also compatible with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), contributing to Airbus’ sustainability goals.

By 2030, Airbus aims for all its internal flight operations to be conducted using SAF.

Airbus said that in 2024, the combined BelugaXL fleet is expected to transport around 5% more payload compared to 2019, with 20% fewer carbon emissions.

ATI aims to operate the BelugaXLs for thirty years, keeping production infrastructure in storage for potential future needs.


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