Airbus has decided to launch development and production of five new Beluga outsize-cargo transporters, to accompany the ramp-up of A350 XWB production and other aircraft production-rate increases.
The new, second-generation Beluga will be based on the Airbus A330 airframe, offering a large re-use of existing components and equipment, according to the manufacturer.
Airbus says that the new, A330-derived Beluga will have a distinctive lowered cockpit similar which will look similar that of the first-generation Beluga, which the company developed from the A300-600F airframe.
However, the cockpit of the second-generation, A330-derived Beluga will be different in design from that of the first-generation Beluga. The cargo-bay structure, fuselage rear-end and tail of the A330 Beluga will not be the same as those of the standard A330 family or the first-generation Airbus A300-600ST Beluga.
Airbus expects the first of the five new Belugas to enter service in mid-2019. The manufacturer will continue to operate its existing five-aircraft Beluga fleet in parallel with the new fleet as it enters service, but the first-generation aircraft will be progressively retired through 2025.
The Beluga is Airbus’ method for transporting large aircraft components between the company’s various production sites in Europe.
Airbus had already launched a ‘Fly 10000’ project aiming at doubling its current Beluga capacity by 2017.
However, according to the manufacturer the capacity of the current Beluga fleet 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.
In developing and producing its 787 Dreamliner family, Airbus’ major rival Boeing decided to adopt a strategy very similar to its competitor’s successful long-term use of an outsize-cargo aircraft specifically developed to transport large structures such as wings and fuselages.
Through a third party in Taiwan, Boeing converted four 747-400 widebodies to outsize-cargo transporters. The company calls this aircraft, all of which are based at Paine Field at Everett, Washington, as the Boeing 747-400LCF Dreamlifter.