Airbus has announced that its BelugaXL has entered into service, providing the manufacturer with 30% extra transport capacity. This additional support will aid on-going production ramp-up of its commercial aircraft programmes.
The aircraft made its first operational flight on 9 January, and is the first of six BelugaXL to begin work alongside the BelugaST predecessors. The remaining fleet will be introduced between 2020 and 2023.
The XL was launched over 5 years ago and awarded Type Certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in November 2019, following an intensive flight test campaign that saw the aircraft complete more than 200 flight tests, clocking over 700 flight hours.
At 63 metres long and 8 metres wide, the BelugaXL has the largest cargo bay cross-section of all existing cargo aircraft worldwide. According to Airbus, the BelugaXL can carry two A350 XWB wings compared to the BelugaST, which can only carry one. With a maximum payload of 51 tonnes, the BelugaXL has a range of 4,000 km. (2200nm).
Because the BelugaXL is based on an A330-200 Freighter, it allows the re-use of existing components and equipment. Meanwhile, the lowered cockpit, the cargo bay structure and the rear-end and tail were newly developed jointly with partners.
Air transport remains the primary method for transporting large aircraft components, however Airbus also uses road, rail and sea transport to move parts between its production sites. Like the BelugaST, the aircraft will operate from 11 destinations in Europe.