Airbus’ first BelugaXL freighter (1853) entered service on Jan.9, as expected, two months after receiving European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Type Certification.
The OEM stated that another five will be operational by 2023 to replace the fleet of its predecessor, the BelugaST. Airbus’ second BelugaXL (1824) has already been assembled, while the third unit (1930) is currently in production. The entire Beluga fleet is operated by Airbus Transport International.
The Beluga whale-shaped transporter is equipped with new design elements, based on the Airbus A330-200 production freighter, including a lowered cockpit, highly enlarged cargo bay structure, and modified rear and tail section. Longer and wider than the ST model, which is based on the A300-600 platform, the XL is distinguished by an additional 30% of transport capacity. From a payload perspective, the BelugaXL can carry two A350 XWB wings while the ST carries only one.
Launched in 2014, with the first unit unveiled in Toulouse in June 2018, the Rolls-Royce Trent 700-powered BelugaXL completed an intensive flight test campaign, executing more than 200 flight tests and logging more than 700 flight hours.
Boeing, Airbus’ top competitor in the commercial jet space, also relies on modified transporters. Boeing converted four 747-400 passenger aircraft to oversize transport configuration in order to speed the movement of subassemblies for the production of the 787. The 747-400LCF, or DreamLifter, has since been called on to transport 767 subassemblies. Atlas Air operates the 747-400LCF fleet on a CMI-basis for Boeing.
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