Airbus completes Beluga rollover

The European frame maker has put its sixth Beluga XL into service. This completes the replacement of the predecessor model, the Beluga ST. The XL variant, which is significantly larger in comparison, is intended to transport components between the individual Airbus production sites. Customers can also lease the XL fleet from operator Airbus Transport International (ATI) to conduct charter missions.

In addition to this, Airbus and partner Zero Avia have signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with three Canadian airports to investigate and test the use of hydrogen.

The sixth Beluga XL has been in service as a test aircraft since 2018 and has now been integrated into the fleet of Airbus company transporters  –  photos: Airbus

Its size is impressive, and the bubble-shaped XL is an eye catcher for spotters and aviation afficionados.

With a hull length of 63.10 m, the “White Whale” is seven meters longer than its predecessor, the ST. Its fuselage is also larger, measuring 8.80 m in diameter vs. 7.71 m of its ST forerunner. This results in an increase in transport capacity of around 30%. The Beluga XL has a nonstop range of 4,000 km and can uplift a maximum of 51 tons per take-off. In contrast to the ST variant, it can accommodate two wings of an A350 per flight on its main deck, making it more economical in comparison.

Shuttle services
Due to the planned production ramp-up at Airbus, there is no alternative to using the six Beluga XL freighters to conduct the shuttle services required to supply the different Airbus sites with aircraft parts and equipment. These are Toulouse in France, Hamburg in Germany, Filton and Broughton in the UK, and Puerto Real, Illescas, and Getafe in Spain. This site diversity was not based on commercial considerations when production processes were decided but is the result of the multinational ownership structure at Airbus. Reversing it is unlikely to happen because political egoism would prevent this.

The hydrogen aircraft planned by Airbus could be a beneficiary of the cooperation between the aircraft manufacturer and Canadian airports, once built and put into service.

Canada embarks on the H2 highway
While presenting the sixth Beluga XL to the public, the aircraft manufacturer announced the launch of a program titled ‘Hydrogen Hub at Airports’. Its main aim is to step up research on infrastructure requirements and low-carbon airport operations across the value chain. To date, agreements have been inked with partners and airports in ten countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Now Canada has joined the club. A move applauded by Val Miftakhov, Founder and CEO of ZeroAvia, a developer of hydro-electric engines for commercial aviation. We are bringing together Canada’s largest airports, the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer, and the leading innovator in decarbonized propulsion technology, in order to progress the transition to hydrogen aviation. ZeroAvia flight testing demonstrates that hydrogen-powered commercial aviation is a prospect ahead of 2030, so we need to start working hard to prepare for the hydrogen infrastructure needed to support the aviation industry and airports as they step into a new golden age of clean flight.”

Forward-looking solution
Tamara Vrooman, President and CEO at Vancouver Airport, added: “We know when it comes to climate change, aviation isn’t the enemy, carbon is. Looking into the feasibility of airports as Hydrogen Hubs is an important step on the journey to net zero carbon emissions. The collaboration between Airbus, ZeroAvia, and the three biggest airports in Canada, will help identify the changes required in our industry and supporting ecosystem to meet carbon reduction goals.”

Deborah Flint, President and CEO of Toronto Pearson, delivered a similar statement: “The future of airports and their aviation partners will be built with innovative infrastructure that minimizes environmental impact.”

Lastly, Yves Beauchamp, President and CEO of ADM Aéroports de Montréal, said: “The use of hydrogen as a fuel for aircraft is a forward-looking solution that fits perfectly with these goals. This partnership will allow our organization not only to better prepare for the introduction of this alternative in our airport operations, but above all to adequately plan the infrastructure required to offer it at YUL as early as 2035. As Montréal is the world’s civil aviation capital, we are all the more proud that our city is playing a leading role in this sustainable innovation project.”

Natural advantages
Canada is best fitted for pushing an H2 ecosystem up front. Due to its natural resources, it has enormous potential to become a dominant player in hydrogen production based on renewable energy sources. “These first Canadian hydrogen partnerships enable us to cover the country from coast to coast. Hydrogen stands out as a key enabler as we pioneer a sustainable aviation future,” commented Karine Guenan, VP ZEROe Ecosystems of Airbus.

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