Airbus’s record aircraft output relies increasingly on a fleet of 5 Belugas which should be operating at 10.000 hours annually by 2017. That’s twice their usage in 2011, as the transport aircraft carry more components between Germany, France, Spain and the U.K.
With facilities scattered around Europe, the Belugas are a vital tool in piecing together the new A350 XWB. Since the first Beluga entered service 20 years ago, production has quadrupled to 600 planes a year.
“We are entering into the most critical phase of the A350 program,” Tom Enders, CEO EADS said. “Ramp-up is underway, and we need to deliver on our commitments to our customers and our first customers particularly for the 350 next year.”
The Belugas shuttle between sites such as Broughton (Wales), to pick up the wings, and Getafe (Spain), or Hamburg (Germany) for tail parts to bring them back to the final assembly line in Toulouse for construction.
The Belugas are based on Airbus’s A300-600, a commercial wide-body model no longer in production so this means that Airbus wouldn’t be able to make additional Belugas. The plane’s main deck cargo volume is greater than that of the Antonov AN-124, though still smaller than the largest Antonov, the An-225. Cargo weight capacity of 47 metric tons is only about a third of that on either Antonovs, because the plane is designed for volume, not weight, said Stephane Gosselin, who runs the Beluga (BELU) fleet.
Every A350 produced will required more than 45 hours of ferry flights, compared with about 8 flight hours for a single-aisle plane, said Gosselin. That’s because sections such as wings are 4 times more voluminous than for Airbus’s A320 series, requiring more trips to get parts to Toulouse.
Under the so-called Fly 10,000 program, Airbus will crank up the use of Belugas to 18 hours a day, six days a week, from an average of 12 hours daily on five days by 2017.
Achieving that target requires more than training additional pilots to add flight hours. The company is also working to improve the infrastructure where the transport hooks up with production facilities, to speed up the transfer of parts, Gosselin said.
To accelerate loading of parts onto the plane, Airbus will start constructing of additional facilities at its main stations in Bremen and Hamburg in Germany, Saint Nazaire in France, Broughton in Wales, and Getafe in Spain. The investment is needed because the Belugas often have to perform loading operations outside the hangars and the facilities will protect it from adverse weather that could slow progress.
A picture of the new line station which will provide a weatherproof facility for off-loading and storing wings.
Plans to construct a multi-million pound Beluga loading and unloading dock at Airbus Broughton have been given the green light. The 5,000 metre-square facility will be operational from 6am-12pm Monday to Friday, 6am-9pm Saturday and 8am-6pm on Sunday.
Based on the article “Airbus Hunchback Beluga Plays Star Role in A350 Ramp-Up” published in Bloomberg and on the article “Airbus get permission for multi-million pound unloading dock for the Beluga at Broughton” published in The Daily Post