The strange-looking supercar with a bulging forehead, which Airbus has long used to transport aircraft sections between manufacturing and assembly plants, is increasingly becoming available to commercial customers with oversized cargo deliveries, company officials said Monday.

An Airbus Beluga ST delivered the Airbus-built Hotbird 13G satellite for Eutelsat to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, over the weekend, hours after the twin telecommunications satellites were successfully launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It was the Beluga’s first visit in the USA for 13 years.

There is a growing demand to airlift cargo that is too tall or too wide to fit on a traditional cargo ship. Capacity is in short supply, especially after Russia’s Volga-Dnepr airline was effectively grounded due to Western sanctions related to the invasion of Ukraine and can no longer fly An-124 roller coasters.

The aerospace, marine, defense and oil and gas industries are the types of customers looking for fast and efficient transportation for large projects.

“We believe there is strong market interest in the Beluga’s unique cargo capacity,” said Benoit Lemonnier, managing director of Airbus Beluga Transport, a new subsidiary and service offered to freight forwarders and charter brokers.

Most of the moves so far have involved Airbus customers, but executives said they are fielding many inquiries from third parties.

A huge container containing a telecommunications satellite is unloaded at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Photo: Airbus)

Airbus (CXE: AIR) delivered four helicopters to Helibras, a subsidiary of Airbus based in Brazil. In July, a massive Airbus Beluga delivered the ACH 160 helicopter from Marseille, France to Sao Paulo for final assembly. Bolloré Logistics, a French freight forwarder, managed end-to-end transportation, including helicopter loading and unloading onto the aircraft, export and import customs procedures, and transportation to the assembly site.

A chartered cargo airline

Airbus Beluga Transport is still in transition as a fully commercial operation. The division currently offers two Beluga ST cargo aircraft for lease. A third will be available in 2023, and the full fleet of five mega-cargo planes will join the fleet permanently in 2024, said Carol Martin, head of Air Transport International, Airbus’s own airline that operates the outsourced Beluga planes.

The goal is to establish Airbus Beluga Transport as an autonomous airline with its own operating certificate and pilots in 2023.

Airbus in January announced the commercialization of its own fleet of Beluga large jets, which are used to support the company’s domestic supply chain, as they are phased out by the larger Beluga XL jets. Beluga XL is based on the A330-200 aircraft.

Characteristic aircraft are based on the beluga whale with a large forehead based on the A300-600 aircraft.

With the largest cross-section of any transport aircraft in the world – 50% taller and 10% wider than market alternatives such as the An-124 or 747-8 – the Beluga is well suited for heavy cargo.

Airbus officials say the aircraft’s capabilities reduce or eliminate the need to disassemble large types of equipment, saving time and money.

Logistics experts say the supply of ultra-large cargo ships for project cargo has decreased in the wake of COVID-19 because they are still often booked for general cargo at a time when passenger airlines are still not operating full-schedule flights and are not carrying transshipment cargo. loads.

Airbus Beluga Transport will also have intermittent access to one XL variant starting next year, officials said. The Beluga XL has a maximum load capacity of 48.5 tonnes, while the ST can carry 44 tonnes.

A German military helicopter is loaded onto the Beluga super transporter using a specialized platform. (Photo: Airbus)

New loading methods and equipment are being developed to maximize BelugaST efficiency. Solutions include a multi-purpose pallet that doubles as an aircraft floor, an overhead platform for loading assistance and an automated on-board cargo handler for delivery when a loading/unloading platform is not available at the departure or destination airport.

Martin said Airbus is looking to get the autonomous system certified and expects it to be available by the end of the year.

An autonomous suspended platform was tested last month to lift heavy military cargo. The German armed forces, the system’s first customer, loaded a CH53 medium-lift helicopter onto the Beluga in about an hour. Airbus said the system has a lifting capacity of 38.5 tonnes and does not require the use of a crane. It is now sold to international militaries.

Martin said suspended platforms are already installed in several strategic locations around the world.

Regarding the delivery of the satellites to Cape Canaveral, Martin said the planes carried a heater on board to make sure the payload stayed within the required temperature and humidity range. The last flight left Toulouse, France, on Thursday and stopped in the Azores; Gander, Newfoundland; Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Orlando, Florida before making the short hop to the Kennedy Space Center on the Atlantic coast. A direct landing at Cape Canaveral was impossible due to the planned launch of the rocket.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulish.


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