MIAMI — The next generation of Airbus Super Transporters is finally taking shape, as the first Beluga XL airframe has begun its 18-month final assembly process at the company’s at Lagardère industrial zone, adjacent to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport.
Launched in November 2014, the core airframe of the Beluga XL is based on the Airbus A330-200 freighter, with a large re-use of existing components and equipment.
This element was assembled last December, without a nose fuselage or tail assembly – both of which will be added during activity planned in 2017. The first metal cut took place over a year ago in Spain’s Aernnova, after completing the detailed design phase.
The new generation of Beluga Super Transporters will be powered with Rolls Royce Trent 700s, one of the engine options available in the current Airbus A330 program, and will incorporate newly-developed elements such as a lowered cockpit, cargo bay structure, and rear and tail sections.
In the first year of assembly, the aiframe will be completed, together with the fitting of its mechanical and electrical systems, and in the last six months of this project, the aircraft will be moved to a second station for ground testing and engine installation.
“The coming year of final integration will be a series of small steps,” said Beluga XL programme head Bertrand George. “The number of holes to be drilled and fasteners to be installed is far bigger than on any other Airbus aircraft. Sticking to schedule at each step is the key to being ready for first flight in 2018. I fully trust the capability of our teams to make it happen together.”
The new Super Transporters will come on time to address the capacity requirements, besides replacing the current A300-600ST Super Transporters in service since 1996 with Airbus Transport International (ATI). According to Airbus, the Beluga XL will be able to carry a full set of A350 XWB wings, while providing Airbus with an additional 30 percent extra transport capacity when compared to the current Beluga aircraft.
“Payload was the big driver for us,” explained Jean-Marc Passuello – leader of a cross-functional Airbus delivery team responsible for the development of major component assemblies. “We knew what the Beluga XL had to be able to carry, and that meant making some changes.”
To date, the Beluga ferries complete sections of Airbus aircraft, produced at various sites around Europe, to the final assembly lines in Toulouse, Hamburg and Seville.