Airbus BelugaXL

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An Airbus A330-743L BelugaXL during its maiden flight in beluga livery
Role Outsize freight aircraft
Manufacturer Airbus
First flight 19 July 2018[1]
Introduction 9 January 2020[2]
Status Out of production; In service
Primary user Airbus Transport International
Produced 2016–2023[3]
Number built 6
Developed from

The Airbus BelugaXL (A330-743L) is a large transport aircraft based on the Airbus A330-200F built by Airbus to replace the original Airbus Beluga to transport very large aircraft components, such as wings.[3] The aircraft made its first flight on 19 July 2018,[1] and received its type certification on 13 November 2019.[3] The BelugaXL entered service with Airbus Transport on 9 January 2020.[2]


In 2013, the five original Belugas could not cope with production growth, and Airbus evaluated the Antonov An-124 and An-225, Boeing C-17 or Dreamlifter, and A400M, before choosing to modify one of its own aircraft.[4] The programme was launched in November 2014 to build five aircraft to replace the existing five BelugaSTs; the design freeze was announced on 16 September 2015.[5] The program cost is 1 billion for development and production.[6]


Airbus Beluga, the Beluga XL's predecessor

The original BelugaSTs were not to be withdrawn from service after introduction of the Beluga XL, expected in 2019; a mixed fleet was to operate for at least five years, as the increased production rate of single-aisle aircraft requires the ability to move more parts.[7] The BelugaST fleet flew more than 8,000 hours in 2017, doubled from 2014, but the five BelugaST aircraft are only halfway through their planned service life: another operator could use them for civil or military logistic applications.[8]

The combined Beluga fleet was expected to rise to eight aircraft when three XLs are delivered, as the five originals stay in service before being withdrawn from 2021.[9] The BelugaST fleet was reaching its limits, flying five times daily, and six days per week, for 10,000 hours in 2017, while some parts are moved over land.[9] Compared with the time required to move the parts of an A320, a BelugaST requires three times as much time to move the A330 parts and nine times as much for A350 parts.[9]

After an Airbus A350 production increase, Airbus aimed to deliver 880 aircraft in 2019, and raise A320neo output to 63 per month by 2021; the Beluga XL fleet was expanded with a sixth example in June 2019.[10] The BelugaSTs could still have 10–20 years' flying life left, and may be offered for sale, or used to serve external customers.[10]

Airbus Beluga Fleet[11][12]
MSN # Registration Type First Flight Delivered Fleet #
655 F-GSTA Airbus A300-605 ST 13 Sept 1994 25 Oct 1995 1
751 F-GSTB Airbus A300-605 ST 26 Mar 1996 24 Apr 1996 2
765 F-GSTC Airbus A300-605 ST 21 Apr 1997 07 May 1997 3
776 F-GSTD Airbus A300-605 ST 09 Jun 1998 18 Dec 1998 4
796 F-GSTF Airbus A300-605 ST 12 Dec 2000 05 Jan 2001 5
1824 F-GXLG Airbus A330-743L XL 19 July 2018 19 July 2018 XL1
1853 F-GXLH Airbus A330-743L XL 15 Apr 2019 06 Dec 2019 XL2
1930 F-GXLI Airbus A330-743L XL 02 July 2020 26 Oct 2020 XL3
1985 F-GXLJ Airbus A330-743L XL 20 Jul 2021 04 Oct 2021 XL4
2027 F-GXLN Airbus A330-743L XL 21 Jul 2022 26 Sep 2022 XL5
2041 F-GXLO Airbus A330-743L XL 21 Jul 2023 24 Nov 2023 XL6


The aircraft's lower fuselage is assembled on the Airbus A330 final assembly line, and then moved to another facility for the year-long process of assembling the upper fuselage and the lowered nose fuselage.[7] The first section arrived in Toulouse in November 2016.[13] Final assembly started on 8 December 2016.[14] The first large sections: one central and two lateral rear section panels, arrived on 12 April 2017 at the Toulouse Final Assembly facility (L34) from Aernnova's factory in Berantevilla, Spain.[15]

Constructed by Airbus subsidiary Stelia Aerospace in Meaulte, its 12 m × 4 m (39 ft × 13 ft), 8.2 t (18,000 lb) nose section was delivered in May 2017.[16] The 9 m (30 ft) wide, 8 m (26 ft) long and high, 2.1 t (4,600 lb) upper front fuselage part, framing the cargo door, was delivered from Stelia Rochefort on 7 July 2017.[17] The 3.1 t (3.1 long tons; 3.4 short tons), 10 m (33 ft) long and 8 m (26 ft) high door was delivered by Stelia Rochefort in September 2017.[18]

In October 2017, 75% of the first BelugaXL structural assembly was done; with systems, mechanical, and electrical integration underway before integration of the tail elements, which had already been received.[19] Its maiden flight was scheduled for summer 2018 before 10 months of flight tests necessary for its certification campaign, and a 2019 service entry.[19] The second aircraft was to enter final assembly line in December 2018, and the three remaining each following year.[19]

After mating the vertical fin, tail cone and horizontal stabiliser including the outboard vertical surfaces, the main freight door was to be attached from mid-November, before power-on at the end of 2017.[20] The flight test campaign used a single, instrumented aircraft.[20] The front cargo door was attached in December 2017.[21] In January 2018, the second arrived in Toulouse for its transformation, in two months less after lessons learned from the first.[22]


Airbus BelugaXL side profile

The first BelugaXL rolled off the assembly line on 4 January 2018, unpainted and without engines.[8] Fewer than 1,000 flight test hours were planned for its certification campaign.[8] After fitting its Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines, it was ground tested for months to assess its systems operation, while bench tests in Toulouse and Hamburg, on flight simulators and in laboratories, simulated flight loads on full-scale copies of specific joints between the upper bubble and the lower fuselage, clearing the aircraft for flight, then type certification.[22]

In March 2018, the first BelugaXL (MSN1824) was having its engines fitted, while the second (MSN1853) was 30% converted.[9] After successful landing gear and flight-control system checks, MSN1824 was to be fuelled and ground tested.[9] The third was expected to begin its conversion before the end of 2018.[9] MSN1853 was to be first operational in 2019, after proving work in 11 European stations, while MSN1824 flight instrumentation was to be disassembled.[9] It was rolled out with its Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines but no winglets in April 2018.[23]

It passed the ground vibration test in early June 2018, with Office National d'Etudes et de Recherches Aérospatiales (ONERA) and Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) measuring its dynamic behaviour compared to flight envelope theoretical models.[24] The flight-test programme was expected to last 600 hours.[25] The second aircraft had its lower fuselage completed by mid-June, before upper shell structural work and freight door fitting after summer, for completion by September or October.[25] The first flight was on 19 July 2018, from Blagnac, Toulouse, France.[1] In February 2019, the first aircraft flew to various destinations, including Airbus's wing plants in Bremen, Germany and Broughton, Wales.[26]

The first BelugaXL to enter service was the second aircraft built, which rolled out on 19 March 2019; the first test aircraft will be retro-fitted after certification.[27] The second aircraft (MSN1853) commenced flight-testing on 15 April, and by then, the first (MSN1824) had completed more than 140 test flights over 500 hours, the final stage before certification.[10] A third airframe was undergoing conversion, expected to last until the fourth quarter of 2019, for delivery in 2020. Operations were expected to start with two XLs in the second half of 2019.[10]

After more than 200 flight tests over 700 hours, the BelugaXL received its European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) type certification on 13 November 2019.[3]

The last two BelugaXLs to be produced are expected to have 180-minute ETOPS approval, allowing them to be used for transatlantic flights, typically to transport satellites to North American launch sites. As of February 2021, tests were being conducted to gain approval for the XL's autoland capacity.[28]


Airbus started operating the first BelugaXL on 9 January 2020; all six freighters are expected to be operating by the end of 2023, while the previous A300-600STs are to be phased out from 2021.[2]


The Airbus A330, on which the BelugaXL is based

With 30% more capacity than the original BelugaST, the BelugaXL can carry two A350 XWB wings instead of one.[5] Its new fuselage is 6.9 m (23 ft) longer and 1.7 m (5 ft 7 in) wider than the original BelugaST, and it can lift a payload 6 t (5.9 long tons; 6.6 short tons) heavier.[29] Its aft section is based on the A330-300, while its forward is based on the A330-200 for centre of gravity reasons, and the reinforced floor and structure is derived from the A330-200 Freighter.[9] The A330 wings, main landing-gear, central and aft fuselage form a semi-built platform with few systems, without the aft upper fuselage, while the upper central fuselage is cut off, facilitated by the metal construction.[9] The enlarged freight hold is mounted in three months with 8,000 new parts on the junction line.[9]

The unpressurised hold begins with the tail adapted by Spain's Aernnova, and continues by building the upper fuselage with two side panels and a crown for each section, for a maximum diameter of 8.8 m (29 ft).[9] Produced by Stelia Aerospace, its main freight door has 24 latches, and the nose includes the cockpit, while a four-seat courier section is supplied by Airbus.[9] Its vertical stabiliser is 50% larger; it has auxiliary fins on the horizontal stabiliser, and two ventral fins beneath the empennage.[9]

The BelugaXL operates at Mach 0.69 up to 35,000 ft (11,000 m) over 2,300 nmi (4,300 km; 2,600 mi) instead of the original Beluga's 900 nmi (1,700 km; 1,000 mi).[9] Deharde Aerospace and the P3 group provide the upper fuselage, while Aciturri produces the horizontal tail plane extension, auxiliary and ventral fins.[4]


Data from Airbus.[30]

General characteristics

  • Capacity: 50,500 kg (111,333 lb) payload
  • Length: 63.1 m (207 ft 0 in)
  • Wingspan: 60.3 m (197 ft 10 in)
  • Height: 18.9 m (62 ft 0 in)
  • Wing area: 361.6 m2 (3,892 sq ft)
  • Aspect ratio: 10.1
  • Empty weight: 127,500 kg (281,089 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 227,000 kg (500,449 lb)
  • Fuel capacity: 73,000 kg (161,000 lb)
  • Fuselage diameter: 8.8 m (29 ft)
  • Cargo hold: 2,209 m3 (78,000 cu ft) volume
  • Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Trent 700 turbofan, 316 kN (71,000 lbf) thrust each


  • Cruise speed: 737 km/h (458 mph, 398 kn) , Mach 0.69 at FL350[9]
  • Range: 4,300 km (2,600 mi, 2,300 nmi) at max payload
  • Service ceiling: 11,000 m (35,000 ft) [9]

See also[edit]

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era


  1. ^ a b c "First BelugaXL becomes airborne for its maiden flight". Airbus (Press release). 19 July 2018. Archived from the original on 15 August 2022. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "Airbus begins BelugaXL operations". FlightGlobal. 13 January 2020. Archived from the original on 14 January 2020. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d "BelugaXL receives EASA Type Certification" (Press release). Airbus. 13 November 2019. Archived from the original on 15 August 2022. Retrieved 14 November 2019.
  4. ^ a b Flottau, Jens (26 March 2018). "Bigger Beluga to aid with Airbus production ramp-up". Aviation Week Network. Archived from the original on 19 January 2024. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
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  6. ^ Rothman, Andrea (16 September 2015). "Beluga jumbo transport plane to boost Airbus's output capacity". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on 4 December 2020. Retrieved 26 April 2018. Development and production will cost 1 billion euros [said Bertrand George, head of BelugaXL]
  7. ^ a b Flottau, Jens (24 November 2014). "New Airbus Beluga fleet to enter service in 2019". Aviation Week & Space Technology. pp. 38–39. Archived from the original on 5 November 2016.
  8. ^ a b c "Le premier Airbus BelugaXL assemblé fait sa première sortie à Toulouse" [The first assembled Airbus BelugaXL makes its first trip to Toulouse]. Actualité Aéronautique Francophone (in French). 4 Jan 2018. Archived from the original on 1 March 2021. Retrieved 4 January 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Kaminski-Morrow, David (21 March 2018). "Second BelugaXL will be first into service". FlightGlobal. Archived from the original on 30 December 2018. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d Kaminski-Morrow, David (7 June 2019). "Beluga XL fleet goes from five to six". FlightGlobal. Archived from the original on 9 June 2019. Retrieved 11 June 2019.
  11. ^ "Airbus Transport International Fleet Details and History". Retrieved 19 March 2024.
  13. ^ "Like Matryoshka dolls: the 1st section of the #BelugaXL has arrived in Toulouse". Twitter. Airbus. 3 November 2016. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  14. ^ "Final assembly of the 1st of 5 #BelugaXL has just started in Toulouse". Airbus. 8 December 2016 – via Twitter.
  15. ^ "First large sections road convoy reaches final assembly hangar in Toulouse". Twitter. Airbus. 12 April 2017. Archived from the original on 13 April 2017. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  16. ^ Kaminski-Morrow, David (30 May 2017). "Beluga XL cockpit section delivered to Airbus". FlightGlobal. Archived from the original on 20 September 2017. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
  17. ^ "STELIA Aerospace livre le Fuselage Supérieur Avant du 1er BelugaXL" [STELIA Aerospace delivers the upper front fuselage of the 1st BelugaXL]. (in French). Actualité Aéronautique Francophone (AAF). 7 July 2017. Archived from the original on 21 September 2017. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  18. ^ Kaminski-Morrow, David (19 September 2017). "Airbus receives first Beluga XL main door". FlightGlobal. Archived from the original on 19 September 2017. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  19. ^ a b c "BelugaXL is readied for electrical power-up as integration of the no. 1 giant airlifter continues". Airbus. 9 October 2017. Archived from the original on 30 December 2022. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  20. ^ a b Kaminski Morrow, David (10 November 2017). "Airbus narrows BelugaXL maiden flight window". FlightGlobal. Archived from the original on 10 November 2017. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  21. ^ "Open sesame! A #BelugaXL without a massive front cargo door wouldn't be a #BelugaXL, don't you think?". Twitter. Airbus. 5 December 2017.
  22. ^ a b "First BelugaXL transporter rolls off assembly line". Airbus. 8 January 2018. Archived from the original on 6 December 2022. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  23. ^ Kaminski-Morrow, David (9 April 2018). "BelugaXL emerges with its Trent engines". FlightGlobal. Archived from the original on 30 June 2018. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  24. ^ "Airbus BelugaXL passes ground vibration test". Airbus (Press release). 6 June 2018. Archived from the original on 7 October 2022. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  25. ^ a b Kaminski-Morrow, David (9 July 2018). "Analysis: How a 'full-digital approach' renewed Airbus's Beluga". FlightGlobal. Archived from the original on 13 July 2018. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  26. ^ Kaminski-Morrow, David (14 February 2019). "BelugaXL arrives in UK for tests at Broughton wing plant". FlightGlobal. Archived from the original on 15 February 2019. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  27. ^ "The second BelugaXL is ready to take its place in our industrial system". Twitter. Airbus. 19 March 2019.
  28. ^ Kaminski-Morrow, David (5 February 2021). "Airbus intends ETOPS for BelugaXL to support transatlantic operations". FlightGlobal. Archived from the original on 5 February 2021. Retrieved 5 February 2021.
  29. ^ "Airbus Beluga" (PDF). AERTEC Solutions. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 July 2017. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  30. ^ "A330-700 Beluga XL aircraft characteristics manual" (PDF). Airbus. 31 Aug 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 November 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2018.

Further reading[edit]