What do you do with a fleet of five now-redundant, incredibly specialised freighters? That was the question Airbus asked of itself earlier this year. Ian Harbison reports on the European manufacturer’s creation of an out-sized cargo subsidiary.
Earlier this year, Airbus announced plans to enter the outsize cargo market as the current fleet of five A300-600ST BelugaST were replaced by a soon-to-be six-strong fleet of the larger A330-743L BelugaXL.
In late September, the fifth Airbus Beluga XL, F-GXLN, c/n 2027, was rolled out of the conversion facility in Toulouse to join Airbus Transport International, the manufacturer’s heavy lift operation that supports the assembly lines in Toulouse and Hamburg by ferrying large fuselage sections and wings from production facilities in Bordeaux, Bremen, Chester, Madrid and Saint Nazaire. The sixth and final aircraft is expected to be delivered late next year, while the first aircraft will remain a test aircraft for a while longer before completing the operational fleet of half a dozen BelugaXLs.