Airbus SE will enter the booming air-freight market, using its massive Beluga jets to transport outsize products such as helicopters, jet engines and space equipment for customers.
The European planemaker will use five older BelugaST planes based on the A300-600 to form a new airline, Airbus Beluga Transport, according to a statement Tuesday. The planes are currently used to ferry large aircraft components such as wings and fuselage sections across its manufacturing sites in Europe.
The twin-engine BelugaST, whose cargo bay boasts a 47 metric-ton payload, is being replaced internally by the BelugaXL, which is based on the newer A330 model and has even larger capacity and range. Airbus will use six BelugaXLs—which can carry two Airbus A350 wings instead of one—as part of its production ramp-up coming out of the coronavirus downturn.
Air freight has emerged as a bright spot for aviation even as passenger traffic plummeted. Global air cargo tonnage stood 6.9% above 2019 levels in 2021, according to the International Air Transport Association.
The new service will allow Airbus to take advantage of the 20 years of remaining service life of the BelugaST jets, and put its “decades of experience in outsize cargo” to use, the company said.
Among the first outside missions for BelugaST was ferrying a large helicopter from Marignane, France, to Kobe, Japan, for an undisclosed customer at the end of 2021. The copter didn’t have to be dismantled, Airbus said.