The first BelugaXL rolled out of Airbus’s paint shop in Toulouse on Thursday, unveiling a special livery in the image of a Beluga whale. One of six choices submitted to Airbus employees through a poll in which 20,000 people participated, the livery garnered 40 percent of votes.
The BelugaXL will now undergo ground testing before first flight during the summer.
Airbus decided to build the BelugaXL in November 2014 to address the transport and ramp-up capacity requirements for the company beyond 2019. Engineers based the new oversize transport on the A330-200 Freighter, employing extensive re-use of existing components and equipment.
Newly developed components include the Beluga’s lowered cockpit, cargo bay structure, and rear-end and tail. Airbus estimates the fleet of five BelugaXL aircraft will provide it with 30 percent more transport capacity than its current fleet of five A300-600ST Belugas can carry. Operated by Airbus subsidiary airline Airbus Transport International (ATI), the existing fleet carries complete sections of Airbus aircraft, built at various sites in Europe, to final assembly lines in Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; and Seville, Spain.
Plans call for the first of five BelugaXLs to fly next year and enter service in 2019, while Airbus continues to operate the existing models until it retires the last of the five A300-based airplanes in 2025.
Airbus has chosen Rolls-Royce Trent 700s to power the new Belugas along with the company’s TotalCare engine support package in a contract valued at some $700 million.