The BelugaXL entered service with its first operational fl4ight on January 9, 2020. It is the first of six to be put into service by the end of 2023.
The smiling aircraft, registered F-GXLH, took off from Airbus’ headquarters in Toulouse Blagnac Airport (TLS) to pay its first visit to Bremen Airport (BRE), the center for wing equipment for all Airbus widebody aircraft.
Powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines, the Airbus BelugaXL is a derivative of the A330-200 Freight. With 63 meters long and a fuselage diameter of 8 meters, the BelugaXL has the largest cargo hold cross-section of all existing cargo planes in the world, recalls Airbus.
It allows the aircraft to carry the full wing of an Airbus A350 XWB, compared to its predecessor the BelugaST, derived from the Airbus A300, which can only carry a half wing. With a maximum payload of 51 tonnes, the Airbus BelugaXL has a range of 4,000 km (2,200 nm).
Beluga XL is the third generation of Airbus transport aircraft. It gives the European manufacturer “an additional transport capacity of 30% to support the ramp-up in the course of production of civil aircraft programs”. According to the company, it was necessary to launch a new airframe, the current ones arriving at the limit of capacity. The Beluga fleet helps support Airbus’ decentralized manufacturing model.
The aircraft is the first of six aircraft to enter service alongside the BelugaST. Launched in November 2014, to address the transport and ramp-up capacity requirements for Airbus beyond 2019, the BelugaXL obtained its type certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in November 2019, following an intensive flight test campaign during which the aircraft performed more than 200 flight tests, clocking more than 700 flight hours.
Airbus chose to give its special transporter the unique appearance of a smiling Beluga whale, to honor the animal the plane is named after.