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April 17, 2024
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Airbus’ dedicated oversized cargo airline Air Transport International (ATI) has received “plenty of new requests” from customers who would like to use the BelugaST for carrying their cargo. Many of those previously used the Antonov An-124, but the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russian operators make these heavy-lift aircraft unavailable. Market for oversized cargo is heating up for Airbus BelugaST.

“We received requests from customers that were previously dependent on the Antonov”, said Benoit Lemonnier, Airbus Beluga Transport Managing Director, during a webcast on October 17. The majority of interest comes from the military, notably in North America. While ATI is mostly carrying cargo on behalf of Airbus, it expects to conclude at least one new contract with an external customer before the end of this year.

Airbus and ATI announced in January that they had entered the commercial market for oversized cargo with the BelugaST, one month before the war in Ukraine started and the market changed. Although Antonov Airlines has six An-124s available, non has been used recently. The An-225 was destroyed when Russian forces attacked the Antonov factory, where the aircraft was parked.

As Airbus is now using the BelugaXL exclusively for its own commercial aircraft production requirements, it has the spare capacity of the BelugaST. Two aircraft are available this year, with a third to join the commercial fleet in 2023, growing to five in 2024. In Q4 last year, the aircraft carried its first commercial payload (a helicopter) to Asia. Since then, it has done two more helicopter ferry flights to Singapore and one to Sao Paolo.  

The webcast was to highlight the news that an ATI BelugaST delivered Eutelsat Hotbird 13G communications satellite to Cape Kennedy last weekend. This marked the fifth BelugaST commercial flight and the first time in ten years that the aircraft returned to the United States with a spacecraft on board. The satellite is scheduled for launch on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on November 1, weather permitting.

The satellite was carried inside a dedicated container, which was subject to strict climate control to prevent any moisture from building up inside the Hotbird 13G. The BelugaST started its journey in Bordeaux and flew via Toulouse with four stops to Florida and Cape Canaveral as it is restricted by its 1.650-kilometer range that was compromised by the heavy container.

Airbus and ATI confirmed that it is still the plan to get a dedicated Airline Operator Certificate (AOC) by mid-2023.

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Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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