While the BelugaXL programme advances toward certification, Beluga STs continue to perform their airlift duties. “They have delivered the necessary capacity, and in some months, we have flown up to nearly 1,000 hours with the fleet,” said Philippe Sabo, head of the Airbus Transport International subsidiary that operates the five-aircraft fleet.
Reflecting on the decision to increase the number of BelugaXLs, Sabo recalled the similar step that occurred with its predecessor: “The Beluga ST programme went through the same decision-making process, and I am sure we would not have coped without the fifth aircraft – which was added in 2001,” he stated.
With the BelugaXL soon to be operational, the proven Beluga STs are far from being written off. These original oversized cargo transporters could continue flying for another 10 to 20 years, so there are possibilities of a second operational life. “There is some way to go before we know for certain, but the first-generation airlifters might be flying much more widely,” according to Sabo.
He said two scenarios are under initial evaluation. “We know that companies have the need for super transporters…so selling them is an option; we’re also considering offering the other Airbus divisions and external customers an outsized transport service ourselves,” Sabo concluded. “You could say we’re considering ‘releasing the Beluga STs into the wild!’”