Airbus’s massive new cargo plane that looks like a whale is now fully operational

The new Airbus BelugaXL.

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The new Airbus BelugaXL.
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Airbus
  • The Airbus Beluga cargo plane fleet is tasked with transporting large sections of Airbus aircraft for final assembly.
  • The company’s newest and largest variant, the BelugaXL, just began operational service in January and is now flying full-time.
  • The current fleet of five Airbus A300-600ST has been in service for 20 years.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Airbus’ newest airplane that regular passengers won’t be able to fly on is now flying full-time in Europe.

The BelugaXL cargo plane just entered operational service and is now transporting Airbus cargo, CNN reported, following months of test flights.

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

It flies pieces as large as the middle and rear fuselage of an Airbus A320 airliner or the wing of an A350 widebody. Airbus also uses a fleet of barges and trucks to move components around Europe.

The BelugaXL will take over for the current generation A300-600ST Beluga that has been in service for two decades. Since it’s based on the Airbus A330-200F freighter, the BelugaXL is larger, with greater cargo capacity, and is expected to deliver superior performance than its predecessor.

The Beluga derives its name from the whale to which it bears a striking resemblance. In fact, the new BelugaXL is even painted to look like the animal.

According to Airbus, it decided to build the BelugaXL in November 2014 as a response to the greater transport and capacity requirements the company expects in the years beyond 2019.

Here’s a closer look at the Airbus Beluga and BelugaXL.

Benjamin Zhang contributed to an earlier version of this article.


Airbus needs to move large numbers of components to its assembly plants in France and Germany. This includes whole sections of planes.

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Airbus

In the early days, Airbus used the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser-based Guppy transport planes.

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Flickr/Alan Wilson

Since the mid-1990s, Airbus has used an aircraft called the Beluga. It’s based on the company’s A300-600 airliner and its official name is the A300-600ST Beluga.

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Airbus

Airbus currently operates a fleet of five Belugas, to be replaced by the BelugaXLs.

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Airbus

The Beluga and its rotund cargo compartment have serious hauling power.

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Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

This includes entire sections of fuselage.

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Airbus

Or the tailfins.

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Airbus

Boeing also uses a fleet of specialized transport planes to move large components around. They are called the Being 747-400LCF Dreamlifter.

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Boeing

The next generation Beluga, the BelugaXL, was introduced in June 2018 and just began flying full-time after receiving its certification from Europe’s aviation regulator.

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Airbus

It’s based on the Airbus A330-200F freighter.

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Airbus

Here it is under construction.

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Airbus

The oversized aircraft allows for two Airbus A350 XWB wings to be transported at a time.

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An Airbus BelugaXL cargo plane.
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Airbus

Airbus says the BelugaXL’s cargo bay has the largest cross-section out of all existing cargo aircraft.

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An Airbus BelugaXL cargo plane.
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Airbus

The BelugaXL is also 20-feet longer and its cargo compartment is more than three feet wider than its predecessor. It can also carry as much as 110,000 lbs of cargo.

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Airbus

The aircraft will primarily be transporting cargo between Airbus’ production facilities in Europe including Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany.

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Airbus