As the Airbus Beluga is slowly becoming old and is not able to cope with the demand increasing lift capacity of other planes anymore, Airbus decided to spend 1 billion € (1.17 billion $) on the development and production of a new series of special heavy air freighters to replace the Beluga. They also thought about operating an An-124, An-225, C-17 or A400M, but in the end a plane that is developed only for the purpose of sending heavy, oversized aircraft components trough europe, just made the cut.
And why does Airbus need such massive planes?
For those of you who don’t know: The Beluga fleet is the backbone of the Airbus production. Since Airbus has multiple production facilities around Europe in Hamburg, Seville, etc. they need to move whole aircraft parts throughout Europe to the Final Assembley Lines (FAL). When this process stops or can not handle the amount of flights anymore, the FALs have to stop working. Just imagine a plane blocking the whole factory, because the middle fuselage is missing, because the Beluga has heavy delay due to problems during loading… You want to avoid that.
The current Beluga fleet operates 5 times daily with 6 times a week. It takes 9 times the flights to transport the parts of the A350 XWB compared to the A320. That’s why Airbus is in need for a reliable, modern and spacious plane.
The new Airbus BelugaXL (smart name Airbus…) is based on the A330 fuselage instead of the A300 version. The official aircraft type therefore is the Airbus A330-743L. BTW: The name Beluga comes from the Beluga whale – a white whale living in the Artic.
With the introduction of the BelugaXL the old planes will maintain service for a while to boost production before possibly being sold to second-hand operators in 2021. Possible applications could be in military logistics. In the end all five Belugas will be replaced with BelugaXLs.
The new version offers 30% more capacity which enables Airbus to transport two A350 XWB wings at the same time, instead of one with the old Beluga. The fuselage is roughly 7 metres longer and 1.7 metres wider. Overall 6 more tons payload can be transported which brings a total of 53 tons (117,000 lb). Interesting to know: The fuselage is a mix of the -300, -200 and -200F versions. This is due to structural reasons (-200F has a reinforced) and the Center of Gravity (CoG).
The Aircraft is able to fly around 2200nm non-stop with a Maximum payload of 51 tonnes. The new Rolls Royce Trent 700 Engines (same as on the A330neo), are offering a better fuel usage in order to fly further.
With the completion of the first flight on the 19th of July 2018 the programm has made a huge step forward. After the flight testing that the plane is going through currently, the first plane F-WBXL is planned to pick up regular service within 2019. The second Airbus BelugaXL is already in production.