Airbus' new super-transporter beast - Beluga XL
Airbus is building a new version of super-transporter Beluga XL which will eventually replace manufacturer’s current fleet of A300-600ST Belugas in service since 1992. Airbus Beluga XL is set to enter into service in 2019.
The new cargo model is now one of the largest in the world and has 30% more capacity than its predecessor. The Beluga XL will be 63 meters long with a wingspan of 60 meters with the ability to carry more than 50 tons of cargo. The manufacturer plans to build five Beluga XL models and eventually slowly phase out its current fleet of super-transporters.
Beluga XL is the third generation of Airbus transport aircraft. According to the company, “It was necessary to launch a new apparatus, the current ones arriving at the limit of capacity. Airbus had the choice to produce more current models, or to create a new one, from a more modern aircraft,” Airbus told La Depeche.
Airbus uses its fleet of giant Beluga models to transport cargo, mainly for their other aircraft’s major components, like wings and sections of fuselage. The super-transporter carries parts from the factories where they’re built to final assembly lines in Germany, France and China.
"Our program is evolving. Today, the Beluga cannot load two wings of an A350 at the same time. We must send them one by one in the cargo bay, lying at 45 degrees. This doubles our transportation costs,” Bertrand George, director of the Beluga XL told Ouest France.
The sky beasts are essential to Airbus supply chain – flying six days a week, air transport is still less expensive and more flexible than moving the components by road.
When asked, why Airbus uses decentralized manufacturing model, director of aerospace at Cranfield University, Professor Iain Gray told BBC that "Airbus pioneered the system of having centres of excellence around Europe - now around the world. You've got skilled labor, shared investment, and the ability to draw in local expertise - the benefits of a distributed model are well proven."
According to the professor, that is precisely the reason why the manufacturer’s rival, Boeing, now moved from a more centralized system to Airbus's distributed model. Hence the need for giant transportation vehicles.
Once in service, Beluga XL will be one of the biggest transportation aircraft in the world, however, Boeing’s super-transporter Dreamlifter is still bigger and more capable. U.S. manufacturer’s enormous beast is used to bring major components of the 787 Dreamliner from supplier factories in Japan and Italy to its final assembly lines in Washington State and South Carolina.
Both super-transporters can still be put to shame by military transporters like the world’s biggest and heaviest aircraft – the Antonov An-225. The massive plane, designed back in 1980s to transport the Soviet space shuttle is 20 meters longer than Beluga XL, at 84 meters length. With a wingspan of 88 meters, An-225 can carry 5 times the Airbus maximum – the giant can carry up to 250 tones.
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