Two months after the Airbus BelugaXL gained European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) type certification, the OEM’s first whale-shaped oversized air transport entered service, the company announced Monday. Airbus plans to introduce a further five BelugaXLs by 2023, providing the European airframer the much-needed extra transport capacity it needs to support the ongoing production ramp-up of its commercial aircraft programs. The company delivered 863 aircraft to 99 customers in 2019, outpacing its previous output record set in 2018 by 8 percent and marking the 17th yearly production increase in a row, according to the company. Its backlog at the end of 2019 stood at 7,482 aircraft.
Like its predecessor, the BelugaST—also known as A300-600ST Super Transporter—the BelugaXL will carry complete sections of Airbus aircraft from different production sites around Europe to the final assembly lines in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany. Two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 turbofan engines suspended on underwing pylons power the aircraft, which carries a range of 2,200 nautical miles (4,074 km) and a maximum payload of 51 tonnes.
Based on the Airbus A330-200 freighter, the BelugaXL incorporates several newly developed elements, including its lowered cockpit, a highly enlarged cargo bay structure, and a modified rear and tail section. Because it is 7 meters longer and 1 meter wider than the ST version, the XL allows for 30 percent extra transport capacity and can carry two A350 XWB wings while the ST can carry only one. The aircraft’s wingspan extends 60.3 meters, overall length stretches 63.1 meters, and its height tops 18.9 meters.
Besides the new BelugaXL, Airbus’s current Beluga fleet consists of five STs.