Airbus rents out Beluga transporters amid air freight boom
Airbus is capitalising on the explosion in demand for air freight by renting out the huge planes it uses to transport wings between its factories.
The BelugaST transporters are 184ft (56 metres) long, 56ft (17 metres) high and carry a payload of 47 tonnes.
They are based on the bodies of the A300 widebody aircraft but have greatly expanded cargo space, giving them an ungainly, whale-like appearance.
The freight service, Airbus Beluga Transport, has already flown a helicopter from France to Japan without needing to take it apart.
The move increases the options for customers wanting to move very large and/or heavy objects by air.
The six-engine Ukranian-made Antonov An-225 and its smaller cousin the An-124 are able to fly heavier payloads than the Beluga, but the Airbus plane is both higher and considerably wider.
The Airbus fleet is being replaced by an even larger plane, dubbed the BelugaXL, capable of accommodating payloads up to 8 metres wide, leaving five older planes with 20 years of service life remaining.
The BelugaST first took to the skies in September 1994 and was given an airworthiness certification just over a year later.
Global shipping disruption has made transporting cargo, particularly high-value goods, by air more attractive even despite the higher costs.
Air freight volumes were almost 7pc higher than 2019 levels last year, according to the International Air Transport Association.
American Airlines and Delta have both said that 2021 was a record year for their cargo operations, helping ease losses from flying far fewer passengers.