Beluga is the name of #5 modified A300- 600s that have a bulbous main-deck cargo area which enables the loading of complete fuselage sections and wings of all Airbus families aircraft (SA, LR and A350 XWB). A380 parts are transported mainly by sea and by road.
Hamburg,Toulouse, Getafe, Bremen, St. Nazaire, Filton, Nantes and Broughton are the production locations & final assembly lines where the Beluga flights are very familiar. For instance, the deliveries of various wing sets from Broughton take place daily, every week with up to 3 Belugas taking off and landing in each day.
Beluga loading operation in Broughton UK
The landing and also the loading activity are weather dependant and Beluga is limited by 30 knots winds when landing and 35 knots winds when opening the cargo door for the loading activity. The process of loading and unloading takes between 1hr 45min and 2hr with each Beluga currently flies 5000 hours per year. (3 flights/day/aircraft with 12 hours of operation, 5days/week = 60 flights/week)
Due to the increased production rates a new project Fly 10000 has started implementing a program of 10.000 hours of flying per year. The turnaround time for the aircraft will be reduced to an optimum time of 1hr 30 min across all Airbus sites (5 flights/day/aircraft with 18 hours of operation, 6days/week = 120 flights/week).
courtesy of fo-meaulte
To reduce the effects of weather conditions on the loading process and improve the turnaround time, in all sites a new Beluga integrated line station will be built by 2014 where loading will take place inside a purpose built hangar.
Each A350 XWB semiwing requires some Beluga flights from Getafe/Stade to Broughton, later to Bremen to finally fly to the FAL at Toulouse.
This will ensure a ‘just in time’ program for the deliveries of various aircraft components to the FAL. Any delays in this process will have a detrimental effect on the FALs and could have a knock on effect on the FALs and subsequently on customer deliveries.
Vertical Stabilizer loaded in Hamburg in it´s way to the FAL
The Beluga is a large, heavy freight aircraft weighing approximately 150 tonnes. The aircraft's considerable cross section makes it a unique and challenging aircraft to fly. This is reflected by only the handful of Pilots who are sufficiently experienced to fly the Beluga. The large surface area of the cargo hold makes the aircraft particularly susceptible to crosswinds (which are frequent at all 4 sites mentioned especially during winter operations) which means it requires a long and stabilized approach to ensure landing accuracy.
For a complete A350 XWB #46 flight hours of a Beluga are required while only #25h for a A330.
Special attention in Fly 1000 project is given to maintenance activities (to maximize availability and reliability of the fleet of Belugas), production sites (will be open 6 days/week with new loading stations) and new personnel requirements (pilots, engineers, operators will be allocated, from current 165 to 235 in 2015).