Airbus has celebrated the addition of the sixth and final BelugaXL aircraft to its Airbus Transport International (ATI) fleet, marking the closure of the BelugaXL manufacturing programme a decade after its launch.

The sixth aircraft (which has served as the programme’s test platform since 2018) is the last in a series of specially-commissioned airlifters, designed and developed to carry sub-assemblies and components between Airbus’ European manufacturing sites. As the first BelugaXL to leave the assembly line, this particular aircraft did not leave the assembly line immediately; instead serving as the programme’s test platform until 2023, during which time it completed over 800 flight test hours.

Following a “well-deserved rest and a major refurbishment,” the BelugaXL has now joined its five siblings as a workhorse for the manufacturer. It offers 30% more payload capacity that its predecessor (the A300-600ST), with a total capacity of 51 tonnes and a range of 2,200 nautical miles; described as being big enough “to swallow 26 small cars, or seven elephants”. The custom-designed cargo compartment can also accommodate the largest A350 fuselage section or two of its 30m long wings (whereas its predecessor could only carry one).

The Airbus Transport International’s BelugaXL fleet is forecast to reach 9,500 flight hours annually by 2027, an increase of 2024’s planned 6,500 flight hours and representative of a ramp-up in manufacture. However, despite an increase of operational hours, the fleet is expected to emit 20% fewer carbon emissions in 2024 than in 2019; in part due to the use of blended SAF and expanded capacity of the aircraft itself.

The BelugaXL is expected to be operation for thirty years, with the associated infrastructure and tooling “slowly being decommissioned and committed to storage, just in case additional BXLs would be needed in future,” concluded Airbus.
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