By Charlotte Seet
Increased cargo size with the Airbus Beluga
After making its maiden flight in 1994, the Airbus A300-600ST Super Transporter – also known as the adorable, oversized Airbus BelugaST – became the world’s most unique cargo carrier as it featured one of the most large holds of all civil or military aircraft flying today. in a rather unorthodox form.
Such a volume allows Airbus to maintain an efficient production line and assembly network operations as the BelugaST transports aircraft components between the manufacturing giant’s facilities in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, France. Germany. And in 2020, Airbus has started introducing a new fleet of six next-generation BelugaXL versions that will eventually completely replace the older generation, this time basing the designs on the A330s instead of the older A300s.
A possible complete replacement means the end of life of the five original BelugaSTs. Despite their mature age, Airbus plans to further exploit the air cargo market by introducing a brand new service called Airbus Beluga Transport, which will offer cargo companies and other commercial contract customers in various sectors a solution for their transportation needs from non-standard freight. .
In fact, the new service has already completed its first mission in late 2021, a delivery from Airbus Helicopters’ manufacturing site in Marignane, France, to Kobe, Japan, for an undisclosed customer. Operating on this mission was Beluga #3, which completed the mission through refueling in Warsaw, Poland; Novosibirsk, Russia and Seoul.
“The Beluga’s wider cross-section will open up new markets and new logistical possibilities for customers,” said Phillippe Sabo, Head of ATI and Air Oversize Transport at Airbus. “When loading helicopters, not having to dismantle them beforehand is really a plus. Likewise, larger commercial aircraft engines can be accommodated in a fully-equipped configuration.
Currently, the Toulouse manufacturer has only activated the Beluga #2 and Beluga #3 for this service, knowing that the six new BelugaXL have not all been put into service yet. However, once the fleet replacement is complete, Airbus plans to hand over the old BelugaST fleet to a newly created airline subsidiary with its own air operator certificate and staff.
“While ATI’s structure is inherently centered around Airbus’ European network of factories, the new airline we will create will be flexible and agile to meet the needs of external markets,” Sabo said. “Also, it will have a global reach and we will be organized for it all over the world.”
But even the old one would need a little tweaking because to maximize the BelugaST’s responsiveness and the fast turnaround capability required by its targeted international clientele, new loading techniques and equipment are being developed for the operation. Some examples include an automated on-board cargo loader for airports that may not have the proper loading and unloading platforms and an enhanced flight management system with ADS-B for enhanced intercontinental navigation capabilities.
For aviation geeks around the world, this new venture from Airbus is certainly great news as the chance to see the BelugaST or even the BelugaXL in action will eventually be increased.