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The BelugaST with an A320 fuselage inside.

Airbus recently secured an operator’s certificate to fly in the US.

Philippe Hugeun/AFP via Getty Images

  • Airbus wants to bring its fleet of Beluga “Super Transporter” aircraft to the US cargo market.
  • The mammoth freighter was designed to carry oversized items — mostly parts for Airbus planes.
  • The jets are now contract freighters for cargo subsidiary Airbus Beluga Transport.

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In 1994, Airbus built a mammoth aircraft called the Beluga “Super Transporter” to support the assembly of its line of commercial airplanes.

The beluga-shaped aircraft carried parts for the manufacturer’s family of A320, A330, and A350 planes on behalf of its in-house subsidiary known as Airbus Transport International.

Aside from its main duties with ATI, the BelugaST also operated a handful of one-off cargo shipments for various companies.

This history prompted the founding of Airbus Beluga Transport, or AiBT, in 2022 as a new home for the BelugaST fleet as the planemaker replaced the original jet with the next-generation BelugaXL.

The startup has since received its own independent air operating certificate from French authorities and now has its eyes set on the US, aviation data website ch-aviation reported in mid-December.

Airbus did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

Take a look at the old-generation BelugaST plane and how Airbus is planning to put its five-strong fleet’s outsized cargo-carrying capabilities to use.

Airbus Beluga Transport officially received its air operating certificate in November.

Airbus’ third BelugaST.


This allows Airbus to use the BelugaST for commercial cargo flights, meaning it no longer has to use ATI flight and ground crews for the operation — the reality before AiBT became an independent operator.

Flying under ATI, the BelugaST’s flew six missions in its first year, per Airbus.

Planespotters data shows ATI has so far transferred three BelugaST aircraft to AiBT.

The BelugaST can use sustainable aviation fuel.


According data from to Planespotters, two out of the five planes are in service with AiBT, and a third is parked for maintenance.

Meanwhile, ATI has one BelugaST alongside its fleet of six BelugaXLs. The fifth BelugaST has been stored since 2021, per Planespotters.

Airbus has also secured an AOC from the Federal Aviation Administration to allow flights in the US.

Loading a BelugaST.


The certificate allows Airbus to operate the BelugaSTs between cities in the US and Europe, Aviacionline reported.

The jet had prior experience in this sector, having already completed a few contracts carrying large machinery during its days with ATI.

Loading a helicopter into a BelugaST.


According to Airbus, the first Beluga transport mission was in December 2021, when it carried a helicopter to Kobe, Japan. The helicopter did not have to be disassembled for transport.

AiBT, as a subsidiary company still using ATI resources, was officially established in June 2022.

According to Airbus, its cargo option is favorable for the BelugaST’s fuel efficiency and versatility.

Loading the BelugaST in December 2021 for its mission to Kobe, Japan.


“We fly your outsized cargo in the shortest time possible while limiting risks of delays and damage and in a cost-efficient way,” the planemaker touts on its website.

The company noted its experience flying oversized freight and the various sectors it can cover, like aerospace, gas, and military.

The plane may also fill the gap left behind after Russia destroyed the mammoth Antonov An-225 Mriya.

The damaged Antonov An-225 Mriya on April 2, 2022, months after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Vadim Ghirda/AP Photos

The Ukrainian-made An-225 used to be the world’s largest cargo plane.

Its sister aircraft, the An-124, could pick up the slack, but the jets are mostly owned by Russian carrier Volga-Dnepr, and the nation’s airspace closures have limited its use, according to Aviacionline.

Equipped with two General Electric engines, the BelugaST can fly 2,500 nautical miles with up to 100,000 pounds of cargo.

A BelugaST loading an A380 tailcone in 2004.

-/AFP via Getty Images

Initially, the aircraft would carry wings, tails, and fuselage parts to its various narrowbody and widebody assembly lines in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany.

Its world-leading interior cross-section allows the BelugaST to carry outsized freight like full helicopters, satellites, and tanks.

The BelugaST nose loading on display at the 1998 Farnborough Airshow in England. via Getty Images

“The Beluga’s wider cross-section will open up new markets and new logistical possibilities – which would not be feasible with other current airborne transport means,” Phillippe Sabo, head of transport at Airbus, said in January 2022 after the helicopter delivery to Japan.

The plane’s giant payload is also helpful for quickly replacing engines on grounded aircraft.

Airbus BelugaST freight loading.


Sabo explained the BelugaST would negate the need to disassemble, re-assemble, and re-test the engine — the latter two tasks Sabo said take “around two days” to complete.

Since its transition to contract flying, Airbus has developed more efficient machinery for loading and unloading the BelugaST.

A BelugaST delivering an Airbus satellite to a customer in Florida in October 2022, marking its first trip to the US since 2009.

Herve Gousse-Master Films/Airbus

Airbus describes the aircraft’s loading, unloading, and delivery design “to be fast, safe, flexible, and reliable.”

To improve its turn-around time, the first enhancement is an automated on-board cargo loader.

Airbus BelugaST OBCL test.


The OBCL, which can be stored inside the BelugaST and hold up to 20 tons of payload, is favorable “where a loading/unloading platform is not available at the origin or destination airport,” according to Airbus.

Complementing the OBCL is the BelugaST’s redesigned outbound platform that can handle “the heaviest and longest cargo.”

Airbus BelugaST outound platform.

H. Gousse/Airbus

Airbus said the transportable machine will be “strategically pre-positioned” at airports across the globe and be “easily transportable prior to a mission at short notice.”

Meanwhile, a multi-purpose platform has been deployed to lift cargo five feet above the ground to load directly into the BelugaST’s nose.

Airbus BelugaST MMP.

H. Gousse/Airbus

Nose-loading is a unique capability exclusive to large aircraft like the BelugaST, the Boeing 747, the Antonov An-124, and the C-17 Globemaster.

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