Airbus brings BelugaST to outsized cargo market

By Bjorn Fehrm

January 25, 2022, ©. Leeham News: Airbus has decided to bring the original Beluga fleet, BelugaST (A300 based), on the market for outsized freight transport, as the newer BelugaXL (A330 based) caters for Airbus internal needs.

It has a larger cross-section than the AN-124, a tad longer freight compartment, and loads outsized but less heavy cargo. When all BelugaXLs are delivered, the ST will be spun off to a dedicated external freight company, Airbus Beluga Transport.

Figure 1. The cargo space of the BelugaST compared with the AN-124. Source: Airbus and Leeham Co.

BelugaST for outsized cargo

The first outside customer flight has already taken place, transporting a Helicopter from Merignac, France to Kobe, Japan for a customer. To transport a complete helicopter without dismantling has a large value for the customer.

The BelugaST is suited for this kind of transport. It has a larger load cross-section than the present largest airlifter, AN-124 (if we exclude the very large and unique AN225). It’s especially the height which is 60% higher, enabling some very spacious transports, Figure 1.

It will be a matter of availability and running cost for cargo that fits both. The BelugaST has half the empty weight of the AN-124, so it should be cheaper in terms of fuel burn. There should be a market for both types as air transport brings many advantages for spacious cargo.

Figure 2. BelugST loading platform that can be stored in the aircraft after use. Source: Airbus and Leeham Co.

The first missions will use the existing Airbus loading and unloading equipment, but a loading platform that can fly with the BelugaST is being developed, Figure 2.

35 Comments on “Airbus brings BelugaST to outsized cargo market

  1. A clever move 👍
    The Antonovs are heavily booked, so there’s plenty of outsize cargo out there.

    • Often have a very heavy load per sq metre as well. A-124 is designed for that as like US heavy lifters had main battle tanks as the design objective ( not often used

      Reminds me of the Super Guppys, they had a useful life after shifting stuff for Airbus. Only one still in service with NASA. Last operational Boeing Stratocruiser !

      • Yes, the Beluga isn’t as suited to heavy loads as the Antonovs are.
        But there are still plenty of bulky-but-light loads that the Beluga can carry.
        Good news for cargo movers, because it frees up Antonov space for the truly heavy-lift work, thus reducing wait times.

      • The early two Super Guppy Turbine were built by Aero Spacelines and later two more by Union de Transports Aériens, Toulouse. These aircraft were not converted aircraft. They were built from scratch as outsized cargo lifters.

        Therefore these aircraft were neither built by Boeing nor are they Stratocruisers.

        NASA operates a Guppy built in France.

        • My understanding was that the _conversion_ were done in France. The grafting base were still a 377/C96 only less of the fuselage was used ( allowed a wider payload bay.)

      • 1 is active with NASA
        3 are on display (TLS,XFW, the British sample was recently scrapped with the front section salvaged.
        1 was scrapped after Airbus use ended.
        There is a Guppy fan site around:

  2. More brilliance coming from the Europeans. With the last 747F assembled this month the demand for a freighter such as this will only grow. Airfreight is the new king.

    • Its a nice move but its not a 747 replacement. 777F.A350F/777x-F are the closest though not identical.

      The BalugaST fuel burn is ugly.

      It deal with bulky lighter high value need to get there fast and or less handling type cargo.

      • “The BalugaST fuel burn is ugly. ”

        obviously. my guess: ~~9t/h

        Even there it has to stand behind the Dreamlifter.

    • Yes, the European’s were brilliant enough to use Boeing Guppies, originally built for the space program, for years to transport Airbus sections before the embarrassment of using a competitor’s plane was too much.

      Boeing has it’s Dreamliners – modified 747’s that I believe are the largest volume planes out there. But they are dedicated to moving 787 sections.

      These oversized planes were all originally built to haul aircraft or spacecraft sections so they had very low floor loading requirements. They didn’t need/have cabin pressurization and fire suppression systems a standard freighter have.

      These will be niche players for those times when you need to carry some big, but not too heavy/dense cargo and are willing to pay a lot for it.

      • “for years to transport Airbus sections before the embarrassment of using a competitor’s plane was too much.”

        Given that the Super Guppies were based on a 1960s design based on a plane last produced in 1952, I think it’s safe to say that age was a much bigger concern than “Boeing built this”. Keep in mind Airbus had two more Stratocruisers converted for them to Super Guppies in the early 80s.
        Besides age of the base airframe, Airbus’ requirements had changed a lot thanks to their expanding product family and output. Four turboprops with somewhat limited capacity and severe issues loading/unloading in high winds… just not really a good fit for Airbus’ workload going into the 90s.

        In the end, Airbus flew the Super Guppies about as long as the (own-built) Beluga ST… Early 70s to 1998 (~25 years) vs. 1995 to 2022/23 (~27 years). (The STs will actually be flown longer than that, but not for Airbus’ own purposes.)

      • “… before the embarrassment of using a competitor’s plane was too much. ”

        Two are on display at the two main Airbus sites. .
        That doesn’t jibe with “embarrassment”. does it?

        They were coming apart at the seams. Tech from WWII+, 55% the payload of the Beluga. Slow. Loading, unloading a really complex activity. Heavily weather dependent. the Belugas were a vastly better mouse trap.

  3. It seems to me that the market for transporting large freight “packages” might be quite elastic. In other words it can grow exponentially depending on the cost of transportation.

    So is the marketing of the excess Beluga capacity simply opportunistic or is it to meet a known demand not met by the AN-124?

    I thought the Belugas operated under some special type of certification which limited what they could do or how many were built. Would it be cost prohibitive for Airbus to create more if the demand was there?

    The idea of creating a loader that could travel with the load is also a game changer

    • AFAIK there is no limit on the Beluga XL the A330 based one. So we could see the transport fleet expand.

      This five smaller and older once will be operated by an airline that is a subsidiary of Airbus. That fulfils the rules according to the certification.

      Before the expanding need of Airbus in the last years, Airbus did a few flights with cargo for special purposes.

      • production expansion prohibited use beyond the in house task. compressed scheduling, improved turnaround (controlled environment direct load infrastructure )
        IMU with the BXLs coming online and the current production slump the Classics were now available earlier ( and with less hours ) for other demand.

      • Afair the Beluga ST cert was limited to 5 samples.
        otherwise it would have been a serial production item with expanded cert requirements.
        5 did not leave much room for external dispatch.

  4. Will the Beulga come with self supporting equipment? Antanov can load and unload with minimum equipment. Looks like Beluga will need equipment to raise cargo much higher. Antanov sits much lower and has shorter fuselage height. Crosswind landing and ground handling must be brutal on Beulga.

  5. It might be interesting for the type of cargo my previous company shipped by AN-124. They shipped wind turbine blades from China to Europe for testing (the first blades made in a new factory) and I believe they were 37m long. Another company did the same but it were 2 42.5m blades transported by AN-225 from China to Denmark.
    But these loads are long but very light: a blade like that is 6-9 metric tonne weight. So especially for an AN-225, that is flying an almost empty plane from a weight perspective.

  6. “AN-124 (if we exclude the very large and unique AN225)”

    An-124 and An-225 have the same cross section. Only the length of the cargo bay is slightly greater.

    • I had to re-read that sentence too, but it is saying that the AN-225 is larger than the 124, nit that it’s cross section is.

  7. They are just trying to use a sunk cost, they will not build anymore.

    You will note they are using the old ones not the new ones

    No idea if they really have a market. They will compete better on costs but I doubt utility into rough areas that the AN-124 has no peer for.

    • Airbus mainly offers the old Belugas but the XLs are also available in case not required for Airbus.

      The old ones have about half of their airframe life time left. I guess that’s less than some KC-135.

    • Maybe useful to keep previous versions of the plane in operation in case Airbus needs them for temporary extra capacity.

      If they can do that at no net cost, that’s OK.

  8. could definitely make a dent in the pre-launch satellite transportation market. in the US most large sattelites travel by C-5 or 747F which both limit the potential dimensions more than the Beluga would and they only use a small fraction of a C-5 or 747’s potential load weight.

  9. There is a market for outsized freight that is divorced from cost to a degree. these packages are the Antonovs lifeblood. I can honestly see these aircraft used for delivery of large helicopters in the Puma/Chinook/Skycrane class. There is a lot of international transport of these large helicopters in the fire suppression and construction industries. The entire outsized cargo/high value market isnt huge, but they should easily earn a living if they have the legs to go anywhere at a decent weight.

  10. On the subject of air freighters:

    “Doha-based Qatar Airways is in “advanced” talks with Boeing to firm up a hefty order of Boeing 777X freighters, people familiar with the matter told Reuters on January 25, 2022.

    According to the report, the proposed order of up to 50 777X freighters between Boeing and Qatar Airways could be finalized in early February 2022 ahead of the Qatar’s emir visit to the United States.”

    Makes sense: the relationship between Qatar and Airbus appears to be over and out, and Qatar already has a hefty number of 777Xs on order (and present-day 777s in use). Of course, the 777X is still nowhere near certification, so we can expect tantrums from AAB at a later juncture if/when things get delayed.

    • AAB’s anti Airbus tantrum could actually be the balance to some Boeing rebates.
      Lets see how this develops. He may have overplayed his hand?

      • Boeing is now Qatar Airlines only supplier. Very profitable for Boeing not having competition. I suspect Qatar might be exploring options for the E195-E2. Perhaps even the MC21/C919?

        • And, with the CR929 coming in a few years, AAB will have an alternative if BA can’t satisfy his widebody needs 😉

        • I don’t think that AAB will expose his white belly to Boeing without some armor plating.
          If my assumption is correct ( and a sale happens ) he will have bargained for super pricing from BA.
          i.e. no gain for Boeing beyond some PR florish.

  11. According to Airbus for the Airbus A300-600ST Beluga:

    Overall length 56.16 m
    Height 17.25 m
    Wing span 44.84 m
    Fuselage width 7.7 m
    Loadable volume length 39.1 m
    Loadable cross-section max height 7.1 m
    Loadable cross-section max width 7.1 m

    Does anybody know the fuel burn difference between the A330-200 and the A330 Beluga XL?

    • lipstick on a napkin style:
      fuel at full payload 49t. – reserves : 44t
      range 2300nmi @ 50.5t payload
      19t / 1000nmi
      7.6t / hour
      @398 knots the Beluga is slow ( like any pregnant girl 🙂

  12. Tangentially related to air freight, the 5G saga takes a new turn: having previously (sort of) cleared the 777, that plane type is now back on the blacklist for “airports where 5G wireless signals could cause interference”.

    “Jan. 25 (UPI) — The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday barred several Boeing aircraft from landing at airports where 5G wireless signals could cause interference.

    The agency issued an Airworthiness Directive prohibiting Boeing 747-8, 747-8F and 777 planes from landing at airports where interference could occur, affecting approximately 336 planes in the United States and 1,714 worldwide”

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