Airbus Beluga Transport (Toulouse Blagnac) aims to complete its certification drive in October 2023 and launch operations using five A300-600ST Belugas under its own AOC, managing director Benoit Lemonnier said during the Air Cargo Conference in Frankfurt.

As reported by the Deutsche Verkehrs-Zeitung, the fully-owned Airbus SE subsidiary will take over all five aircraft from sister carrier Airbus Transport International (4Y, Toulouse Blagnac) and proffer them to third-party customers. The European holding aims to utilise the type's unique outsized cargo capabilities to attract customers from the military, industrial, and resource sectors. Lemonnier pointed out that with the drop in the number of available An-124 due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and sanctions imposed on the type's operator, Volga-Dnepr Airlines (VI, Ulyanovsk Vostochny), there was a lot of demand for such aircraft.

Due to its specific nose-loading design, the Belugas require the use of dedicated loading platforms. Lemonnier said Airbus has currently positioned six such platforms at strategically important airports - Marseilles, Toulouse Blagnac, and three more at undisclosed locations in Asia and North America. The company plans to have 20 more platforms around the world by 2026 and eventually build three mobile platforms that will be carried onboard the aircraft.

The commercialisation of the Belugas was made possible by the entry into service of the A330-700ST BelugaXL. Airbus Transport International currently operates five new-generation freighters for the manufacturer's in-house needs, mostly carrying large aircraft components - such as wings and fuselages - between its various European sites. The target fleet of A330-700STs will number six units.

The transition of the older freighters to their new role began in late 2021. Four Belugas remain in service with ATI, mainly catering to Airbus's in-house needs but occasionally also flying commercial routes. The fifth aircraft has been in storage at Bordeaux since April 2021, the ch-aviation fleets advanced module shows.