The build-up process of the “Beluga XL,” a new generation transporter produced by Airbus, is well under way, states the aircraft manufacturer. The plane maker’s first special freighter
out of a series of five units will take off on its maiden flight in summer of next year.
It seldom happens that new aircraft types are airborne in the allotted time, as shown by Boeing’s disastrous ‘Dreamliner’ program, the ongoing woes plaguing the military Air-bus A400 or the Chinese C919 jetliner of newcomer COMAC that all suffered or are still experiencing substantial delays.
However, in the case of the large transporter Beluga XL things have developed quite differently. The entire project is running precisely on time, states the European manu-facturer. About 75 percent of the assemblage works on their number one special freighter have been accomplished.
The XLs will complement the current Beluga fleet
Airbus says that their upcoming Beluga XL freighter will become the cornerstone of their oversized freighter fleet, primarily used to transport components and entire sec-tions of the company’s different aircraft variants from production sites spread all over Europe to final assembly lines in France, Germany and Spain. Once airborne, the five units will complement the existing fleet of five A300-600ST Super Transporters, which will continue flying. The freighter aircraft are based on the legacy A300 jetliner, and were given the original “Beluga” nickname because of their resemblance to the white whale of the same name.
According to performance plans, the freighter is able to carry 53 tons over a distance of 4,000 kilometers. It is six meters longer, one meter wider and has an uplift capacity which is six tons more than the existing Beluga version.
Additional transport capacity is urgently needed
The five Beluga XL aircraft will provide an additional 30 percent in transport capacity for Airbus’ industrial network. This is much needed to secure the seamless flow of compo-nents and sections for the manufacturer’s new variants A350, the A320neo family or the A330-300 respectively -900, including the ramping up of the plane maker’s produc-tion rate as reaction to high number of orders for their jetliners.
The Beluga XL program was launched in November 2014 as a derivative of the A330-200 and is heading into the home stretch. Right after the first Beluga XL’s rollout in Toulouse next summer, a mandated 10-month flight test certification campaign will fol-low. The second aircraft will start final assembly process in December, and the remain-ing three airlifters will be produced at a rate of one per year.
It can be assumed that the XL transporters will also be available for special commercial charter missions whenever their capacity is not needed by Airbus.