Airbus Retires The World’s First Beluga

The first-ever Airbus Beluga transport aircraft has left Broughton for the last time. Beluga number one departed the Airbus factory in North Wales just after 15:00 BST today, on its way to Hamburg for storage. It’s the second of the original fleet of five A300-600ST transporters to be placed in storage, as Airbus updates its fleet to the modern Beluga XL.

Airbus A 300-600 ST / Beluga
The first-ever Airbus Beluga has been removed from service. Photo: Getty Images

Come in number one; your time is up

Beluga number one, the first to grace the skies on behalf of Airbus Transport International, has officially left the building. The A300-600ST based aircraft has been with Airbus since October 1995, and is a ripe 26.6 years old.

As Airbus introduces more of the modern A330-based Beluga XL to its fleet, the original five are set to leave. The first to take retirement was Beluga number two, F-GSTB, which last flew on October 6th, 2020, from Airbus’ Toulouse home to Bordeaux for storage.

Now, the first-ever Beluga has taken her last flight for Airbus. F-GSTA took off from Hawarden in Flintshire at just after 15:00 BST today. It was a short, one-hour and 16 minute trip, directly east, to Hamburg. It landed at 17:19 local time.

Airbus Transport International Airbus A300-600ST Beluga parked outside the production-line
Number one was the first ST to ever fly for Airbus. Photo: Getty Images

Airbus has its own facilities in Hamburg to remove useful parts or otherwise do some decommissioning work with the aircraft. Beluga number two also spent time in Hamburg before departing for storage in Bordeaux. As such, we could see number one taking a final ferry flight to the storage location in the coming days.

Airbus Retires The World’s First Beluga

Up until now, Beluga number one had been fairly busy for Airbus. In the last 12 months, she’d flown some 458 flights, with an average monthly utilization of 57.1 flight hours. But with newer, bigger sisters joining the fleet, it’s time for number one to rest her wings.

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The XL is coming

To date, Airbus has taken delivery of two of the newer Beluga XL. These larger load-shifters are based on the Airbus A330, and carry the designation A330-700L. The first arrived with Airbus Transport International in December 2019, and a second joined the fleet in October 2020.

Beluga XL
The Beluga XL offers 30% more capacity over its ST sisters. Photo: Airbus

Interestingly, the two that are already flying for Airbus are XL2 and XL3. XL1 is yet to enter service, but is carrying the registration F-GXLG. AIBFamily shows that the aircraft has undertaken numerous test flights at Toulouse, the most recent of which was on April 9th. Perhaps it’s almost ready to enter service, and as such, Beluga number one was taken offline.

Also incoming is F-GXLJ, which we would like to assume will be XL4. However, spotters are yet to see the complete plane emerging for flight tests, so it’s likely to be some time before the fourth joins the fleet.

The Beluga XL offers 30% more cargo capacity than the original line, and are essential for moving large parts like wings from their production facilities to the final assembly lines for the planemaker. Airbus previously said it would seek ETOPS approval for at least two of the transporters, allowing them to fly transatlantic.

Have you ever spotted Airbus’ giant transporters? Let us know in the comments.