Airbus to build sixth Beluga XL and sell old Belugas

After completing another milestone in its flight test campaign by carrying its first set of wings, the Beluga XL program is one step closer to becoming Airbus’ latest special airlifter, however with this comes the retirement of the A300 based Belugas.

Airbus is targeting a 2020 retirement date for the five Belugas in service, however rather than sending them to the scrapyard or to a museum, the company is reportedly looking to sell the aircraft to special freighter airlines such as Volga-Dnepr or Cargolux.

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Bloomberg, who was the first to publish this information, states the company has already begun contacting potential buyers for the special aircraft.

Additionally, rather than following the five-aircraft figure of the A300 Belugas, Airbus plans to build a sixth Beluga XL, with the aim to use the aircraft to increase production across all programs and for future developments

Unlike the Beluga, which can only carry one A350 wing, the Beluga XL can carry two A350 wings with additional space for other small components and cargo pallets underneath the main hold floor.

Specifications for the two aircraft can be found in the table below:

Aircraft Payload Length Wingspan Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) Fuselage Diameter Engines
A300-600ST Beluga 47,000kg (103,616lb) 56.15m (184ft) 44.84m (147ft) 155,000kg (341,713lb) 7.1m (23.4ft) General Electric CF6
A330-743L Beluga XL 50,500kg (111,333lb) 63.1m (207 ft) 60.3m (197ft) 227,000kg (500,449lb) 8.8m (29ft) Rolls-Royce Trent 700

Technical data for the Beluga XL outlines the aircraft will come in two weight variants: 227t and 205t. This is to make use varying airport and navigation fees at the Beluga-operational destinations as well as potentially allow Airbus to work around the five-aircraft limit imposed by the FAA and EASA.

Because of the type of cargo the aircraft will be carrying (wings, fuselage pieces etc), the entire MTOW won’t be used as the aircraft is purely designed around volume, not weight. Underneath the freight area is room for 14 LD3 containers as well as a bulk cargo compartment in the far aft.

Certification of the aircraft is not far away and the company plans to have three of the aircraft operational by 2020.

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