Airbus’ fourth BelugaXL aircraft made its maiden flight yesterday from Toulouse Airport. The specially-designed freighter underwent a three-and-a-half-hour test flight over France in preparation to become XL4. Let’s find out more.
After several ground tests, the latest BelugaXL has officially taken to the skies, commonly known as XL4. The maiden flight took place on Tuesday, 20th July, departing from Airbus’ facility in Toulouse. The specially modified A330-200 freighter took off at 10:01 AM local time for its test journey.
After low-altitude tests over the airport for the first 20 minutes, the XL4 increased its altitude and flew further away. Over its three-hour and 37-minute flight, it crossed the Bourdeaux region, reaching La Rochelle and briefly flying over the Atlantic Ocean, before returning home. It landed safely 13:38 local time.
This flight was conducted under the test registration of F-WWCO. However, the XL4 will take on the registration of F-GXLJ once it enters active service with Airbus’ Transport fleet. The maiden flight of a special plane like the BelugaXL is always a celebration, with Airbus providing footage of the aircraft’s first takeoff.
— Airbus (@Airbus) July 20, 2021
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The BelugaXL is based on the A330-200 freighter and plans to replace the current fleet of five A330-600 based Belugas. These specially designed oversized freighters are used to carry vital parts of Airbus aircraft between its many production facilities. The plane routinely carries wings, fuselages parts, and much more. While these planes have mainly been flying within Europe, Airbus is hoping to fly them much further with ETOPS certification.
As we’ve mentioned, F-GXLJ will be mark XL4, the fourth BelugaXL out of the six slated for production. Unlike spotting commercial aircraft designs, identifying the Beluga’s should be no problem given their massive fuselage and cute smile on the front.
We will likely see XL4 enter service in the next few months. The XL3 entered service in October 2020, leaving nearly a year-long gap between the deployment of these planes. However, as we’ve previously analyzed, the Beluga fleet has seen little action in 2020 as the pandemic slowed production. However, Airbus is keen to ensure the replacement process goes smoothly, with all six BelugaXL’s in service in 2023.
The first flight of XL4 comes at a time when Airbus is cautiously optimistic about an industry recovery. After turning a €362 million profit in the first quarter, the European giant announced major production rate increases in May. The end of 2021 will see 45 A320s being produced a month, with that figure rising 64 by mid-2023.
This expansion in production will need the new BelugaXL’s to fly parts from across the world to its final assembly lines. Therefore, Airbus will likely complete BelugaXL production by next year and roll out the planes soon after.
What do you think about the BelugaXL? Will Airbus keep the older Beluga’s on for longer to support production? Let us know in the comments!