These new facilities – the first of which opened in Hamburg earlier this year – will help the Beluga freighters increase their flight hour totals to support Airbus’ latest production rate increases, as well as the start of A350 XWB series production, by minimising the impact of weather conditions on loading/unloading.
"During the winter months in Hamburg, there were days when the aircraft could not operate because wind speeds of over 30 knots are too strong for the hinges of its main cargo door," explained Friedhelm Preuss, line station manager at Airbus’ Hamburg site.
This no longer is an issue when using the new facilities, as the front of the Beluga is positioned inside the hangar right up to the leading edge of its engines – with just the wings and aft section remaining outside. Sliding doors, shaped to fit the cargo carrier’s fuselage, encircle the aircraft in the docking area. During unloading, components are moved onto three 35-metre long sledges – known as mobile racks – and transported outside the hangar to the delivery ramp using a cargo boarder.
Thanks to the loading hangar development – which began mid-2012 in an Airbus initiative called “Fly 10,000” – the five Belugas will double their flight hours to reach 10,000 hours annually by 2017, with each operating five flights a day, six days a week.
Later this month, the second Beluga loading hangar will open at Airbus’ Bremen, Germany production site – to be followed by the company’s facilities in Saint-Nazaire, France; Broughton, UK; and Getafe, Spain; along with another in Hamburg. The hangars’ construction varies depending on the local environment, but is based on a modular kit jointly developed by the design managers from all the different sites. The docking area design, however, is identical for all six.