Airbus recently announced plans to rent out their iconic Beluga ST aircraft for commercial use in a new service managed by subsidiary airline Airbus Beluga Transport
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a… whale plane? These are the questions I expect to see flying around more often, just like Airbus’ Beluga ST after their most recent announcement. The iconic Beluga cargo plane is usually used by the manufacturer to transport large aircraft parts to different parts of the world, and as such these flying beasts are a very rare sight indeed. However, with the introduction of the manufacturer’s Beluga XL back in 2016, Airbus have been sitting on a fleet of some of the largest outsized cargo aircraft in the world. Instead of just having the now outdated craft gather dust, Airbus has announced the formation of ‘Airbus Beluga Transport’ – a subsidiary airline tasked with managing the entire Beluga ST fleet and renting them out to customers who are in need of some very heavy lifting. In total, seven aircraft are set to make up the fleet of this new cargo carrier, with 2024 being set as the earliest date of transfer for the initial five craft.
This is, frankly speaking, an excellent move by the manufacturer to make the most out of the recent boom in cargo demand due to a rise in levels of Ecommerce purchases. The Beluga can essentially act as a giant flying shipping container, as well as being able to fit fully assembled aircraft like helicopters into its 7.1M wide hull. The obvious advantage of not having to disassemble and re-assemble craft over a transport flight should see the demand for the Beluga shoot fairly high – and, with the aircraft being the only commercial craft of its kind with these specifications, Airbus are set to make a lot of money from this move.
Let’s talk a little about some of those key specifications which make the Beluga so good at what it does. Airbus have spent time developing an outboard platform specifically designed to load and unload cargo from the Beluga, with these platforms being installed at airfields around the world. On top of this, the Belugas come fitted with an onboard loader “travelling with the payload inside the Beluga for maximum reactivity and autonomy,” according to the manufacturers press release. Able to move cargo around internally, this loader will act to speed up delivery times by cutting down on the total loading/unloading time. When combined with the Beluga’s new outboard loader/unloader, customers can expect to see incredibly rapid turnaround times for their cargo flights. The manufacturer has also developed a new multi-purpose pallet, which cargo will be stored on. This pallet will allow the Beluga to run multiple trips at a time without having to return home and be fitted with a specific pallet for a specific job. All in all, we should expect to see a lot more Belugas taking to the skies under Airbus’ new programme, providing an excellent opportunity for all you enthusiasts out there to see this rare aircraft in flight!