Airbus Seeks ETOPS Certification For The BelugaXL

Airbus’ specially-modified A330 aircraft known as the BelugaXL may soon be able to fly across the Atlantic as it pursues ETOPS certification. The whale of a plane is an evolution of the originally Airbus Beluga and is used to ferry aircraft components from Airbus’ manufacturing sites to final assembly facilities. The news comes from Beluga XL chief engineer Pascal Vialleton, who spoke at the Royal Aeronautical Society event on February 4th.

BelugaXL
At the moment, three Beluga XLs are operational. An additional three are on the way for a total of six. Photo: Airbus

ETOPS 180

Speaking at a Royal Aeronautical Society event on Thursday, Beluga XL chief engineer Pascal Vialleton noted that Airbus is pursuing ETOPS 180 certification for some of its BelugaXL jets. This will allow the aircraft to fly as far as 180 minutes away from the nearest suitable diversion airport – a certification that is often sought after for transoceanic crossings.

More specifically, Airways Magazine notes, the planemaker will look to certify the two yet-to-be-built BelugaXLs for these transatlantic missions. With these applications intended for the purposes of transporting satellites to be launched in the United States, Aerotime notes that this certification is scheduled to be completed in 2023.

BelugaXL
2020 was a big year for the BelugaXL program, with the type’s entry-into-service and new models coming off the assembly line. Photo: Airbus

More than just Airbus aircraft components

While much of the BelugaST and BelugaXL role is to ferry components from manufacturing sites to final assembly facilities in Hamburg and Toulouse, the oversized cargo jets are capable of more.

In fact, Airbus notes that the BelugaST has been used in the past for special worldwide operations for other Airbus payloads, including helicopters, satellite components, or complete satellites. This would be a nice change of pace from delivering A320 fuselage sections and A350 wings.

BelugaXL
The “heat map” of F-GXLH and the locations it has flown to the most in the past 12 months. Photo: AirNav RadarBox

Indeed, obtaining ETOPS 180 in the future will offer Airbus the potential to expand the role of the BelugaXL. This could see potential customers arrange for the jet to transport oversized equipment and components much faster across the Atlantic ocean.

BelugaXL
At 63 meters long and over eight meters wide, the BelugaXL has the largest cargo bay cross-section of all existing cargo aircraft worldwide.  Photo: Airbus

Designed for speed, efficiency, and oversized cargo

As with the BelugaST, Airbus notes that its BelugaXLs are equipped with cargo loading systems to ensure easy and efficient handling of payloads. The planemaker notes that due to new efficiency in its systems, the turn-around time (TAT) for the BelugaXL is approximately one hour, “reduced by almost half when compared to a BelugaST.”

As a program, the BelugaXL was launched in late 2014 to support A350 ramp-up and other production rate increases.  By the end of 2023, Airbus states that six BelugaXLs will replace the current BelugaST fleet of five.

The BelugaXL performed its maiden flight in 2018 and received the type certification in November 2019 from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) airworthiness authority. This culminated in the first BelugaXL entry-into-service in January 2020.

What do you think of Airbus pursuing ETOPS 180 certification for two of its BelugaXL aircraft? Let us know in the comments section.

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