It is just 20 years that the Beluga has been supplying the various Airbus assembly lines with fuselage and wing sections, two decades since 1994, when it replaced the old Super Guppy, a derivative of the Boeing KC-97 and operated by the European aircraft manufacturer in the early 70’s.
The European aircraft manufacturer has five in its fleet, which carry out more than 60 weekly flights between eleven sites. This derivative version of the A300-600 is an essential link in Airbus’ logistics and production. The cargo plane can transport 47 tonnes ( 52 U.S. tons ) of cargo over a distance of 1,600 kilometres ( almost 1,000 miles ).
Stéphane Gosselin, Head of Beluga Operations – Airbus :
"There is a significant ramp up in a lot of the airbus programmes and as the beluga is at the crossroads of all programmes because we carry sections for all programmes, the impact is even bigger on the beluga fleet, so we have a plan to ramp up by 10 to 15% a year to fulfill the demand of Airbus production systems between 2011 and 2017."
By increasing crew and flight hours, optimizing loading procedures with new facilities and equipment, Airbus can, for now, continue its production rate of 50 aircraft per month. But in 2018, with 10 additional units rolling off the assembly lines, the five Belugas will not suffice. So, why not build more ? That would be difficult given that the A-300 is no longer manufactured, over and above which, over the years, the Beluga’s maintenance costs have been on the increase.
According to our information, Airbus, therefore, needs to think about a successor to the Beluga. It could be a derivative of the future, more efficient, A-330-neo with new engines. This "Beluga-neo" should also outperform its predecessors in terms of range and payload carried.
The European aircraft manufacturer will probably present this new cargo aircraft toward the spring of 2015. This new programme for at least five aircraft, with the first units possibly entering service from 2018, will cost several hundred million euros.