Inside the intricate process of loading an Airbus Beluga XL

There is no mistaking the Beluga. Mark Broadbent profiles this distinctive airlifter and learns about the intricate process of loading and unloading Airbus’ unique in-house transport jet

Bearing a name entirely befitting its whale-like appearance, the Beluga is one of the most distinctive aircraft types to ever grace the skies. Airbus’ in-house airline, Airbus Transport International (ATI), uses two generations of this charismatic aeroplane to transport aircraft subassemblies and components between its European factories. They are the BelugaST (the ST stands for Super Transporter), introduced in the mid-1990s, and the higher-capacity BelugaXL, which entered service early in 2020.

Beluga XL
A wonderful study of BelugaXL F-WBXL during the next-generation airlifter’s first flight from Toulouse on July 19, 2018. The aircraft was airborne for 3hrs 37mins. Airbus-Sylvain Ramadier

At the time of writing in November 2021, Airbus was operating three STs and three XLs. It once operated five STs – two have been retired and are currently parked up at Bordeaux- Mérignac, France awaiting their fate. Three more XLs are due by the end of 2023.

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