The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has certified Airbus’ second version of their dedicated freighter, the BelugaXL. The manufacturer now anticipates that the freighter, based on the A330-200F, will enter service in early-2020. Airbus launched the project in November 2014, with the goal to replace the current five BelugaST freighters, which are based on the Airbus A300.

EASA certified the BelugaXL after an “intensive flight test campaign,” Airbus states, as two aircraft completed over 200 flight tests, clocking in 700 flight hours throughout the certification period. The Toulouse-based aircraft manufacturer started flight tests in July 2018, a few months after the first BelugaXL frame rolled out of the factory in Toulouse.

The aircraft is fitted with two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines, and has 30% more capacity than its predecessor, due to the fact that it is seven meters longer and one meter wider. For example, the BelugaXL can carry two Airbus A350 wings, while the BelugaST can only carry one. Its maximum payload is 112436 lbs. (51 tones), at which it can fly up to a maximum of 2531 mi (2200 NM). Other differences between the XL and the ST include a lowered cockpit, a re-arranged cargo bay structure and a redesigned rear-end and tail, jointly developed with Airbus and its partners.

“The aircraft is an integral part of Airbus’ industrial system and a key enabler for production ramp-up requirements beyond 2019,” as it will connect 11 Airbus’ factories across Europe, the press release states. Six BelugaXLs will be built between 2019 and 2023, which will allow Airbus to slowly phase out the BelugaST. However, first retirements will only commence in 2021, as Airbus completes the assembly of its third BelugaXL, taking the total mixed fleet of dedicated freighters to eight.

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Airbus new super-transporter Beluga XL made a maiden flight on July 19, 2018. The first test lasted four hours 11 minutes and ended at Toulouse-Blagnac, France at 14:41 hrs local time.