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Airbus Launches Development Of New Beluga Oversize Transport Aircraft

November 17, 2014 - To industrially accompany the A350 XWB ramp-up and other aircraft production rate increases, Airbus took the decision to launch the development and production of five new Belugas. 

The new Beluga will be based on the A330 with a large re-use of existing components and equipment. The distinctive looking lowered cockpit, the cargo bay structure and the rear-end and tail will be amongst the items which will be newly developed. 

The first of the five new Belugas will enter in service in mid-2019. The existing Beluga fleet will operate in parallel, and will be progressively retired through to 2025. 

The current Beluga fleet of five aircraft is based on the A300. The "Beluga", is Airbus’ unique method for transporting large aircraft components– between company production sites in Europe. Airbus had already l launched “the Fly 10000” project aiming at doubling the current Beluga capacity by 2017.

However the current capacity is limited and the new Beluga fleet will close this capacity gap. With its flexibility and short transport lead-times, oversize air transport is a cornerstone of Airbus’ industrial operations.

When Airbus started in 1970, the first few components were delivered by road, but growing production soon necessitated a switch to air transport. From 1972 onwards, a fleet of four highly modified "Super Guppies" took over. 

These were former Boeing Stratocruisers from the 1940s, converted with custom fuselages and turbine engines to carry large volume loads for the 1960s NASA space program, leading to the jest that "every Airbus is delivered on the wings of a Boeing".



As time went by, the Super Guppies grew increasingly unsatisfactory for Airbus's ferrying needs: their age meant that operating expenses were high and ever-increasing, and growing Airbus production required greater capacity.

Construction began in September 1992, and the first flight took place in September 1994. After 335 hours of test flying, restricted certification was awarded in October 1995, and the A300-600ST "Beluga" entered service. Four more Belugas were constructed, at a rate of roughly one per year, and all five remain in regular service. Their primary task is to carry Airbus components ready for final assembly across Europe between Toulouse, Hamburg and 9 other sites, and they do so 60 times per week.
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