The Final BelugaXL Joins the Airbus Fleet

After serving as the programme’s test platform since 2018, in June 2024 the last of six BelugaXLs has entered service.

Airbus has taken its internal airlift capabilities to new heights with the completion of the BelugaXL program.

This colossal aircraft, based on the A330-200 freighter, boasts a 30% greater payload capacity than its predecessor, the A300-600ST.

The six BelugaXLs, built in Toulouse, France, are now operational within Airbus Transport International (ATI), the company’s internal airline since 1996.

These massive airlifters ferry crucial sub-assemblies and components between Airbus’ European manufacturing sites, ensuring a smooth and efficient production process.

Thanks to specially designed loading facilities, each mission turnaround takes a mere 70 minutes.

The “BXL Spirit”: Collaboration and Innovation

Launched in 2014, the BelugaXL program exemplifies the power of collaboration. A dedicated team of 1,000 Airbus engineers and suppliers worked together to streamline processes and expedite decision-making.

The program prioritized reusing components and design elements from existing Airbus platforms, allowing the BelugaXL to transform from concept to first flight in just five years.

Bertrand George, who spearheaded the BelugaXL’s development, emphasizes the unique spirit fostered during the program.

“We not only created the BelugaXL, but also what we call the ‘BXL spirit’ – a spirit of making the impossible possible,” he says.

Despite ambitious cost and timeline targets, the team embraced innovative approaches to bring the BelugaXL to life. These learnings will undoubtedly benefit future Airbus projects.

From Test Platform to Workhorse

The very first BelugaXL (BXL#1) played a critical role in the program’s success. Following its maiden flight in 2018, it served as the test aircraft for four years.

During this period, pilots meticulously evaluated the BXL’s performance across its intended European routes.

Now, after refurbishment and well-deserved downtime, BXL#1 is ready to take its share of the workload, joining its five siblings in active service.

Bigger, Better, and Sustainable

With a payload capacity of 51 tonnes and a range of 2,200 nautical miles, the BelugaXL is a true aviation behemoth.

Imagine an aircraft as long as two blue whales and as tall as a three-story building – that’s the BelugaXL! Its cavernous hold can accommodate a staggering 26 cars or seven elephants.

Notably, the BelugaXL surpasses its predecessor by being able to transport the entire A350 fuselage section or two of its massive 30-meter wings.

Airbus is committed to sustainable aviation practices, and the BelugaXL reflects this dedication.

The fleet can operate on a blend of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). This aligns with Airbus’s goal of steadily increasing SAF usage within its internal operations.

In fact, over half of ATI’s fuel consumption in 2023 originated from SAF, and this trend is expected to continue.

By 2030, the entire BelugaXL fleet will transition to using SAF exclusively, adhering to Airbus’s environmental roadmap.

The BelugaXL’s superior capacity also translates to fewer flights compared to the previous Beluga fleet.

This translates to a projected 5% increase in payload transported by the BelugaXL fleet in 2024 compared to the mixed fleet of 2019.

Moreover, ATI anticipates a 20% reduction in carbon emissions for 2024 compared to 2019.

Summary

With a projected operational lifespan of 30 years, the BelugaXL promises to be a vital asset for Airbus’s production needs.

The program’s infrastructure, including specialized jigs and tooling, is being carefully stored for potential future use if additional BelugaXLs become necessary.

As the final aircraft joins the fleet, one thing is certain: the BelugaXL is poised to make a significant and sustainable contribution to Airbus’s future.


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