Airbus moves forward with Beluga XL aircraft

European aerospace manufacturer Airbus has announced that it is continuing to move forward with its heavy-lift Beluga XL craft.

In a press release the company stated that they have moved to next stage of the aircraft’s design phase.

The Beluga XL has passed through its initial ‘concept phase’ achieving what Airbus dubs a “design freeze at aircraft level”. In effect, this means that most of the major elements of the plane’s design have been finalised, and only small refinements remain in the pipeline.

From here, the Beluga XL will now move onto a detailed design phase where it begins to be readied for manufacturing.

The new craft will be a successor to the pre-existing Beluga aircraft, which is a heavily modified version of the Airbus A300.

Development of a new model of this craft, dubbed the ‘Beluga XL’ was only announced late last year.

“We are proud of how much we have accomplished, in less than a year after the launch of the programme, with the new and innovative way of working with our suppliers,” said Bertrand George, head of the Beluga XL programme at Airbus.

“By working together as a fully integrated team in a single location, we have maximised our efficiency. This milestone paves the way for a successful final assembly start in 2017.”

The aircraft itself will maintain many of the same design cues of its predecessor, with a large bulbous fuselage able contain a number of very large items.

Unlike its predecessor however, the Beluga XL will be based off a modified version of the much more recent A330-200 Freighter. The craft will feature extensive re-use of existing components and will be powered with Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines.

Airbus initially announced the XL in November 2014 with the aim to provide a new craft which could help increase the company’s transport capacity, allowing an overall acceleration of its production speed.

All up, Airbus plans to build 5 Beluga XL aircraft, which it believes will increase its transport capacity by 30%.

These craft will be operated by subsidiary Airbus Transport International (ATI) with the first scheduled to enter service in 2019.