One of the most extraordinary aircraft around, the Airbus Beluga cargo aircraft, celebrates its 20 years since the maiden flight on 13 September 1994. Named after the white whale because of its shape, the fleet of five Belugas have one main task: to supply the Airbus final assembly lines in Toulouse in France and Hamburg in Germany.
Today, more than sixty flights are performed each week between eleven sites, carrying crucial parts for all of the Airbus programmes, including the world’s largest passenger plane: the Airbus A380. The Beluga fleet is operated by Airbus Transport International (ATI), an Airbus subsidiary airline, with each aircraft operated by a pilot, a co-pilot and a flight engineer.
With the production start of the A350 XWB in 2012 and the production ramp-up on other Airbus programmes, the Beluga activities again will substantially increase over the next five years. Therefore there are more flight crews trained on the aircraft and flight hours are expected to increase from 5,000 in 2011 to 10,000 in 2017. New loading facilities have been installed in Hamburg and Bremen in Germany, and in Saint-Nazaire in France. Broughton in the United Kingdom and Getafe in Spain will follow soon.
The Beluga is based on the twin-engine A300-600R. It is powered by General Electric CF6-80C2 engines. The aircraft is 56 m long, 17 m high has a fuselage diameter of 7.71 m and a main-deck cargo volume of 1,400m3. It can carry a maximum payload of 47 metric tonnes non-stop over a range of 900 nautical miles (1,660 km).