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A Whale in The Sky: The Beluga Airbus XL Takes its Maiden Flight

Beluga Airbus

Nicknamed the ‘whale in the sky’, french aircraft manufacturer beluga airbus XL made its first flight on Thursday.

An Airbus beluga is a cargo plane designed to transport major sections of Airbus planes from its suppliers around Europe to its assembly plants in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany.

The strangely shaped aircraft — named for its resemblance to the whale of the same name — is the first of five XL models that airbus expects to build by 2023. airbus has modeled aircraft after the beluga whale since the mid-1990s.

Launching Beluga XL

Airbus launched the BelugaXL in late 2014 as a new super transporter supporting the A350 ramp-up and other production rate increases. By the end of 2023, six BelugaXLs – derived from the company’s versatile A330 widebody aircraft – will replace the current BelugaST fleet.

The BelugaXL performed its maiden flight in 2018 and received the type certification in November 2019 from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) airworthiness authority. This paved the way for the first BelugaXL service entry in January 2020.

As with the BelugaST, the BelugaXL fleet will operate across 11 destinations in Europe, continuing to strengthen Airbus’ industrial capabilities and enabling the company to meet its production and delivery commitments.


  • Overall length 63.1 m
  • Height 18.9 m
  • Wingspan 60.3 m
  • Fuselage width 8.8 m
  • Loadable volume length 46.8 m
  • Loadable cross-section max width 8.1 m
  • Loadable cross-section max height 7.5 m


  • Max payload 44 tonnes
  • Max range 4,000 km
  • Max take-off weight 227 tonnes
  • Max landing weight 187 tonnes
  • Max zero fuel weight 178 tonnes
  • Max fuel capacity (density = 0.803) 73.3 tonnes

Speed and efficiency

As with the BelugaST, BelugaXLs are equipped with cargo loading systems to ensure easy and efficient handling of payloads, controlled by the trained crews of the Airbus Transport International (ATI) subsidiary.

Thanks to new efficiency in systems, the turn-around time (TAT) for the BelugaXL is approximately 1 hour, reduced by almost half when compared to a BelugaST.

Flight deck

The BelugaXL is operated by two pilots, taking advantage of the modern A330 cockpit on which the latest systems and technologies developed for other programs have been transferred – ensuring technology lead and commonality benefits.

These include fly-by-wire flight controls, liquid crystal displays (LCDs), and the Airport Traffic Situational Awareness (ATSA) system. In late 2021, RNP AR (Required Navigation Performance Authorisation Required) will be added. This system improves access at locations with challenging surroundings.

At the end of 2022, ROPS (Runway Overrun Prevention System) and AP/FD TCAS (Autopilot/flight Director Traffic Collision Avoidance System) is to be incorporated.

During landings, the ROPS predicts operational landing distance and warns crews on overrun risk during both auto-braking and manual braking operations, whereas automatic avoidance maneuvers with AP/FD TCAS (Autopilot/flight Director Traffic Collision Avoidance System) are performed in case of collision risk with another aircraft.

Beluga Airbus
Beluga Airbus
Beluga Airbus
Beluga Airbus

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