Airbus says its BelugaXL over-size transport aircraft has received its type certificate from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
The certification of the aircraft followed a flight test campaign that began in July 2018 and involved 200 test flights and 700 flight hours.
The BelugaXL, which features a distinctive smile livery that was chosen by a vote of Airbus staff, was expected to begin service in early 2020, Airbus said in a statement on Wednesday (European time).
Airbus announced in November 2014 plans to build five new “Beluga” transports to cater for the planned production rate increases of its aircraft models. It later added a sixth BelugaXL to the fleet, with the aircraft to be built between now and 2023.
The aircraft was based on the A330-200 freighter featuring Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines and re-used a large number of existing components and equipment. It was capable of carrying a full set of Airbus A350 wings and had a range of 2,200nm with a maximum payload of 51 tonnes.
“The lowered cockpit, the cargo bay structure and the rear-end and tail were newly developed jointly with partners, giving the aircraft its distinctive look,” Airbus said.
Currently, Airbus has five BelugaST aircraft, an efficient if not conventionally attractive converted A300-600 twinjet that flies between the airframer’s sites carrying everything from wings to fuselages and anything in between.
The company has said previously the BelugaST, which is six metres shorter and one metre narrower than the BelugaXL, would be progressively retired through to 2025.
VIDEO: A closer look at the Airbus BelugaXL from construction to first flight from Airbus’s YouTube channel.