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The Last-produced BelugaXL Enters Service

DALLAS — The last of six Airbus BelugaXLs (BXL) has entered service, as the successors to the iconic A300-600ST, the original ‘Beluga,’ continue its mission to enhance Airbus' industrial capabilities.

"The fleet is now complete," says Airbus via a press release, noting that the BelugaXL has served as the program’s test platform since 2018.

The last BelugaXL joined its five siblings at Airbus Transport International (ATI), a subsidiary of Airbus that has been operating as the company's internal airline since 1996.

Airbus transport international F-GXLH A330-700 XL2 Beluga XL at Hawarden airport UK. Photo: Daniel Crawford/Airways

Airlifter Missions

Offering 30% more payload capacity than its predecessor, the A300-600ST, the BXL is key to Airbus' increasing production pace. Built in Toulouse, France, the six specially commissioned airlifters transport sub-assemblies and components between Airbus' European manufacturing sites.

Each mission averages a turnaround time of just 70 minutes, thanks to specially designed loading facilities at plants in France, Germany, Spain, and the UK.

Creating the ‘Beluga spirit’

The final handover to ATI marks the conclusion of the BelugaXL program, launched in 2014. The development team was centralized, bringing together around 1,000 Airbus engineers and suppliers in one place to streamline decision-making and processes.

As per the Airbus release, parts, equipment, and design principles were reused and adapted from other Airbus platforms whenever possible. This approach helped the BXL progress from the drawing board to its first flight in just five years.

“We created the BelugaXL, but also what we called the BXL spirit – making the impossible possible,” says Bertrand George, who led the plane’s development.

speaking on the type certification process, George said, “Our instructions were to halve the BXL’s original development cost, and deliver the first aircraft – certified as a normal A330ceo – within five years... Fortunately we had carte blanche to explore novel approaches to make it happen. Those experiences will be beneficial to future programmes in all of Airbus’ businesses.”

Airbus shares George's recalling of the first flight. “What was a truck in the morning was an aircraft by the afternoon," he says. “You see the work of thousands of people and thousands of hours taking flight in front of your eyes.”

Airbus F-GXLJ Airbus A330-700L BelugaXL. Photo: Albderto Cuini/Airways

The BelugaXL in Numbers

  • Each BelugaXL has a payload capacity of 51 tonnes and a range of 2,200 nautical miles.
  • The aircraft is as long as two blue whales and as tall as a three-storey office block.
  • Its hold is "big enough to swallow 26 small cars, or seven elephants."
  • The airlifter can accommodate the largest A350 fuselage section or two of the widebody’s 30-metre long wings.
  • ATI’s BelugaXL fleet is forecast to reach 9,500 flight hours annually by 2027, compared to a planned 6,500 flight hours in 2024.
  • The BXL can operate with a blend of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

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