The intricate process of loading the Airbus Beluga XL

There is no mistaking the Beluga. Mark Broadbent profiles this distinctive airlifter and learns about the intricate process of loading wings on to 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

Beluga XL
February 14, 2019: Airbus Transport International BelugaXL F-WBXL holds in front of the Broughton’s Beluga Line Station shortly after arriving at the Flintshire facility. Note the Beluga shaped ‘keyhole’ in the Integrated Loading Facility’s ceiling-to-floor doors. v1 Images-Avgeek Mel

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. There is the BelugaST (the ST stands for Super Transporter), introduced in the mid-1990s, and the higher-capacity BelugaXL, which entered service early in 2020. 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, currently parked up at Bordeaux-Mérignac, France awaiting their fate. Three more XLs are due to arrive by the end of 2023.

 

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