MIAMI – With the BelugaXL entering service a year ago, Airbus is ready to phase out its A300-600ST transporters as it seeks extended-twin-engine-operations (ETOPS) approval for its new ‘whales’ to fly transatlantic.

Pascal Vialleton, the BelugaXL chief engineer announced the news at the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) event held today. In the ‘Sir Arthur Marshall Lecture’ webinar streamed by the RAeS Cambridge Branch, Pascal gave a presentation on the Latest Airbus A330 Variant.

Vialleton addressed the various BelugaXL’s production phases, from its design freeze to its final assembly. Additionally, the chief engineer delved into the difficulties encountered during the production phases and the relevant industrial partnerships formed up to ensure triumph of this special aircraft program.

Pascal also spoke about various aspects of Beluga XL’s flight operations.

Beluga performed its maiden flight on 2018. Photo: Airbus

A New Whale over the Atlantic


The firm utilizes Airbus A300-600ST Beluga and BelugaXL super-sized transporters to convey its aircraft parts between factories. The BelugaXL, with a 30% greater payload than the ST, made its maiden flight in 2018. The strategy to increase the capacity rather than the -600ST’s age, says Vialleton, was the main reason for the fleet renewal.

He indicates that Airbus has also explored other choices for the -600ST fleet, stating that it can be used to “carry whatever is large and needs to be transported.” However it can not unload at ground level unlike the Antonov An-124. Therefore, such capability necessitate to install a mobile platform inside the aircraft.

At the time, Airbus said that it had no intention of retiring its older models in the near future. In other words, Airbus would need all its super-sized transporters for its the ever-increasing production capability.

Demand for the -600ST fleet grew from 6,000h in 2014 to 8,600h in 2017, but because it can handle two A350 wings at a time, the XL provides power relief. Around 1,000 flights and 1,700h per annum will be run by each XL.

Other few figures from the Beluga XL aircraft: it is based on A330-300 and it is 63.1m long, 18.9m high. With a 60.3m wing span, the XL can carry up to 51 tons of payload or two A350 wings over a 4000km range.

Beluga XL Infography. Photo: Airbus

ETOPS for New BelugaXL Aircraft


Three BelugaXLs are in service and three more are in Airbus plan. According to Vialleton, their higher capacity will allow to phase out the company’s older Belugas. As for the last new additions, Airbus intends to fly its BelugaXLs in transatlantic missions.

Therefore, the European airframer will pursue the approval of 180min ETOPS for the last two models. As such, the types should receive said approval in 2022 and 2023 respectively, and may transport satellites to launch from the United States, according to the company.


Featured image: Airbus

An Enhanced BelugaXL


Airbus is aiming to enhance the capabilities of the XL following its introduction into operation in January of last year. According to Vialleton, the MSN001 will at last join the XL operating fleet, once on-board test instrumentation has been dismantled.

The airframer has carried out a 60 hours of flight tests to gain clearance for Cat III autoland. This includes a systematic initiative to test autoland under varying circumstances, including crosswind experiments undertaken in Newcastle last December.

As BelugaXL Pilots were feeling a cockpit temperature difference in winter, the air conditioning system had to be re-examined. This was “really not comfortable,” Vialleton said.

However, the ventilation analysis revealed that the issue could be fixed by adjusting the airflow in the cockpit, though further flight checks are required. This is to ensure un-disrupted operation of smoke detection system in areas such as the avionics bay.


Featured image: Airbus