Airbus’s new A330-based high-capacity transport, designed to replace the A300-600ST Beluga fleet, will provide a 12% increase in payload.
The airframer has given more details of the modified aircraft, which is scheduled to enter service in mid-2019.
Airbus programme chief Didier Evrard, speaking in Toulouse, said the jet – currently designated the Beluga XL – would have a 1m (3.3ft) wider cross-section than its predecessor.
It would be intended primarily for A350 work, and is being designed with capacity to ship two A350 wings simultaneously.
Five aircraft will be “progressively” built, says Evrard. The first two are “essential” to supporting ramp-up operations, he says, with the remaining three being introduced as the current Beluga fleet retires.
“The sky of Toulouse would not be the sky of Toulouse without the Beluga flying in it,” says Evrard.
He points out that the Beluga programme will be used as a training exercise to refine Airbus’s development processes, in order to make them faster and simpler.
Airbus expects the Beluga XL fleet to offer an extra 30% transport capacity to the manufacturer, which has been adapting its logistics strategy in various ways to cope with the demands of A350 production ramp-up.
“We can relieve a lot of the [ramp-up] burden by moving smaller components to road traffic,” says Airbus chief operating officer Tom Williams, adding that the airframer will “focus the Beluga on very big components”.