Beluga XL: The transporter beast that’s shaped like a flying whale

The large transport aircraft Airbus Beluga XL, based on the Airbus A330-200, made its first operational flight in January 2020.

The distinctive cargo aircraft with an equally distinctive smiling whale appearance is built to replace the original Airbus Beluga which is in service since 1992 for the movement of oversized aircraft components like wings.

This replacement aircraft was announced by the company in 2014. The aircraft made its first flight on 19 July 2018 and received its type certification on 13 November 2019. The aircraft made its first operational flight on 9 January 2020 and entered full-time service by 20 January.

Up until late October 2020, Airbus added three Beluga XL to its fleet and is now headed towards a total fleet of six by 2024.

The 207ft-long aircraft, which has a wingspan of 197ft is powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines and has a higher capacity than Airbus Beluga.

While Beluga can carry 47 tonnes in a freight compartment with a volume of 1,500 cubic meters, the BelugaXL can open its forehead to allow up to 51 tonnes of cargo to be loaded and has a volume of just over 2,200 cubic meters.

The BelugaXL also features newer systems for loading and unloading cargo, which should reduce turnaround times. The aircraft is also expected to meet the growing transportation needs.

Belugas XL Operations

The Third Generation of Airbus Transport Aircraft after Supper Guppies and Belugas, the Belugas XL will mainly be focusing on delivering the components of A350, which is the largest aircraft from Airbus. The increased cargo capacity of Beluga XL is designed to transport two A350 wings together while the previous model only supported one.

With the aircraft’s main role being the transportation of A350 components, the whale-shaped transporter has a limited route map.

The route map of the aircraft includes Broughton in the UK where wings are produced, as well as other sites in France, Germany, Spain, and China. Getafe in Spain was added to the route network in August 2020. The final assembly of the A350 is in Toulouse.

Carriers Like Belugas XL

Airbus is not the only manufacturer to build specialised aircraft to transport aircraft components. Other manufacturers like Boeing which operates the Dream lifter and Antonov Airlines which runs the AN-225 are also in the race.


The Boeing 747 Dreamlifter, also known as the Boeing 747-400 Large Cargo Freighter (LCF), is a wide-body cargo aircraft modified extensively from the Boeing 747-400 airliner. The aircraft has a volume of 65,000 cubic feet (1,840 m³) and can hold three times that of a 747-400F freighter. It is used primarily for transporting Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft components to Boeing’s assembly plants from suppliers around the world.


The Antonov Airlines huge An-225, also known as ‘Mriya’, is the only aircraft that features six turbofan engines. It can transport up to 250 tonnes of cargo, including single pieces weighing up to 200 tonnes over short and medium-haul routes. The aircraft was built to transport spacecraft.

The Aircraft, which was out of use for several years, saw the light of the day in 2020 when it was brought back into commercial operation, as the market struggled with lack of capacity for oversized goods following Volga-Dnepr’s recent decision to ground its AN-124 fleet.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the aircraft has broken two cargo records, transporting vast amounts of medical supplies from Asia to Europe, proving that its cargo ability, along with high range, remains unmatched.

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