This model can be displayed in flight on the stand or with the landing gear down on the ground
The Airbus BelugaXL (A330-743L) is a large transport aircraft based on the Airbus A330-200 Freighter airliner, built by Airbus to replace the original Airbus Beluga in the movement of oversized aircraft components like wings. The aircraft made its first flight on 19 July 2018, and received its type certification on 13 November 2019. The BelugaXL entered service with Airbus Transport on 9 January 2020.
In 2013, the five original BelugaSTs could not cope with production growth, and Airbus evaluated the Antonov An-124 and An-225, Boeing C-17 or Dreamlifter, and A400M, before choosing to modify one of its own aircraft. The programme was launched in November 2014 to build five aircraft to replace the existing five BelugaSTs; the design freeze was announced on 16 September 2015. The program cost is €1 billion for development and production
The aircraft's lower fuselage is assembled on the Airbus A330 final assembly line, and then moved to another facility for the year-long process of assembling the upper fuselage and the lowered nose fuselage. The first section arrived in Toulouse in November 2016. Final assembly started on 8 December 2016. The first large sections: one central and two lateral rear section panels, arrived on 12 April 2017 at the Toulouse Final Assembly facility (L34) from Aernnova's factory in Berantevilla, Spain.
Constructed by Stelia Aerospace in Meaulte, its 12 m × 4 m (39 ft × 13 ft), 8.2 t (18,000 lb) nose section was delivered in May 2017. The 9 m (30 ft) wide, 8 m (26 ft) long and high, 2.1 t (4,600 lb) upper front fuselage part, framing the cargo door, was delivered from Stelia Rochefort on 7 July 2017. The 3.1 t (3.1 long tons; 3.4 short tons), 10 m (33 ft) long and 8 m (26 ft) high door was delivered by Stelia Rochefort in September 2017.
In October 2017, 75% of the first BelugaXL structural assembly was done; with systems, mechanical, and electrical integration underway before integration of the tail elements, which had already been received. Its maiden flight was scheduled for summer 2018 before 10 months of flight tests necessary for its certification campaign, and a 2019 service entry. The second aircraft was to enter final assembly line in December 2018, and the three remaining each following year.
After mating the vertical fin, tail cone and horizontal stabiliser including the outboard vertical surfaces, the main freight door was to be attached from mid-November, before power-on at the end of 2017. The flight test campaign used a single, instrumented aircraft. The front cargo door was attached in December 2017. In January 2018, the second arrived in Toulouse for its transformation, in two months less after lessons learned from the first.
The first BelugaXL rolled out of the assembly line on 4 January 2018, unpainted and with no engines. Fewer than 1,000 flight test hours were planned for its certification campaign. After fitting its Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines, it was ground tested for months to assess its systems operation, while bench tests in Toulouse and Hamburg, on flight simulators and in laboratories, simulated flight loads on full-scale copies of specific joints between the upper bubble and the lower fuselage, clearing the aircraft for flight, then type certification.
The first BelugaXL to enter service was the second aircraft built, which rolled out on 19 March 2019; the first test aircraft will be retro-fitted after certification. The second aircraft (MSN1853) commenced flight-testing on 15 April, and by then, the first (MSN1824) had completed more than 140 test flights over 500 hours, the final stage before certification. A third airframe was undergoing conversion, expected to last until the fourth quarter of 2019, for delivery in 2020. Operations were expected to start with two XLs in the second half of 2019.
After more than 200 flight tests over 700 hours, the BelugaXL received its European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) type certification on 13 November 2019.
The last two BelugaXLs to be produced are expected to have 180-minute ETOPS approval, allowing them to be used for transatlantic flights, typically to transport satellites to North-American launch sites. As of February 2021, tests were being conducted to gain approval for the XL's autoland capacity.