Airbus has added Getafe, Spain, to its BelugaXL route network. The highly distinctive plane is now transporting horizontal tailplanes and wing lower covers from Getafe to Airbus sites in Toulouse and elsewhere. Getafe now joins a select network of just 11 airports to host the Beluga XL.
The second BelugaXL is now flying
There are now two BelugaXLs currently flying. Airbus has plans to operate six by the end of 2023. The first BelugaXL only entered service earlier this year. Airbus developed the plane to transport aircraft components, similar to Boeing’s Super Guppy.
Despite appearances, the BelugaXL is a modified A330-200 freighter that uses many of that plane’s existing components and equipment, including the Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines. Modifications included lowering the cockpit and raising the cargo bay ceiling. Few aircraft are better named – the XL looks just like a beluga whale.
The BelugaXLs are working along the existing five BelugaSTs. The STs are modified A300-600 aircraft.
The BelugaXL bigger than the BelugaST
At 63 meters long and 8 meters wide, the BelugaXL has a superior cargo carrying capacity compared to the BelugaST. For instance, the XL can carry two A350 XWB wings, whereas the ST can only carry one.
“With 30% more capacity than the existing Beluga ST, it really will help us to better support the production ramp-up for A350 XWBs and the single-aisle A320 Family”, said Philippe Sabo, Airbus Transport International’s Head of Oversize Air Transport.
“And its high-speed cargo loading system means we can significantly reduce turnaround times, something which is key to achieving our targets.”
According to Airbus, the second BelugaXL is now operating several flights a week, including to Getafe.
Getafe is located on the outskirts of Madrid. The facility has a specially built 7,200m² hangar designed for Beluga fleet loading and unloading operations. The Airbus facility in Getafe makes horizontal tailplanes for all types of Airbus aircraft in addition to A350 XWB components. In addition, aircraft components that are made elsewhere get transported by road to Getafe. There, they are loaded onto the Beluga for fast shipping to Airbus sites in Toulouse, Hamburg, and Broughton.
Airbus happy with the performance of Beluga XL
After years in the making, Airbus is happy with the performance of the BelugaXL so far.
“We are really impressed with the aircraft. The way it behaves is fantastic, and I particularly like the livery – it feels like the aircraft is looking at me when I’m close to it,” said Mr Sabo.
If you think flying the BelugaXL would be akin to flying a bloated airborne pig, think again. Piloting the plane is not so bad. Bertrand George, head of the Beluga XL program, told CNN last year flying the XL is much the same as flying an A330.
“Our pilots will get trained on the A330, and then they will get a Delta qualification to enable them to fly the Beluga XL.”
There’s a neat promotional angle Delta’s slick marketing team haven’t latched onto yet!
“The drag is about the same. What changes really is the behavior of the aircraft at the rear, at the bottom of the cargo bay.
“This is why we have lifted the vertical tailplane by more than two meters to get it out of the flow behind the cargo bay. We also have the special acceleration on the horizontal tailplane to give stability to the aircraft.”
Airbus says they remain on track to have all six BelugaXLs in the air by the end of 2023. Meanwhile, the third Beluga XL made its first flight in July and will enter service later in 2020.