The windy weather at Shannon Airport today provided the perfect opportunity for an Airbus crew to undertake flight training.
While many counties around the country were battening the hatches during today’s gale force winds, an intrepid crew was taking to the skies at Shannon Airport. The gale provided perfect conditions for a rare sighting of the Airbus Beluga XL which travelled especially from Toulouse in France to Shannon Airport to undertake cross wind training in the skies above the airport.
The plane, which has aptly earned its name as it is shaped and painted to look like a Beluga whale, took to the skies at 11.00am for a two-hour cross wind training session before returning to France.
Airbus’ next-generation BelugaXL oversize airlifter is a modified version of the Airbus’ popular A330 freighter variant and has been designed and built to transport complete aircraft sections across the company’s European production network.
A fleet of six Beluga XLs will be built replace its Airbus’ current five-strong team of A300 Beluga STs which can no longer cope with parts for the company’s newer aircraft including the Airbus A350-1000 which has also visited Shannon as part of its flight testing programme.
Airport Operations and Commercial Director Niall Maloney said: “Safety management plays a significant role in the aviation industry and in this regard we have always made our runway available for specific crew or aircraft performance training exercises.
Today’s bad weather created a great opportunity to get real flight experience in windy conditions. It isn’t the first time that Shannon has facilitated such training, in fact the majority of all new aircraft models since the 1970’s have used Shannon at some time specifically for cross wind component training. It is true what they say every cloud, or in this case gale, has a silver lining.”
Airbus regularly uses Shannon for flight testing as part of aircraft certification before new jets enter commercial service.
In 2006, the largest passenger plane in the world, the Airbus A380, undertook cross-winding training in Shannon while new Airbus aircraft models have been visiting Shannon in recent years for similar training.
At 3,199m, the runway at Shannon is the longest in Ireland and can cater for all the largest aircraft in operation.
Airbus launched the BelugaXL in late 2014 as a new super transporter supporting the A350 ramp-up and other production rate increases. By the end of 2023, six BelugaXLs – derived from the company’s versatile A330 widebody aircraft – will replace the current BelugaST fleet
Sized at seven metres longer and one metre wider than its BelugaST predecessor, the BelugaXL provides 30% extra transport capacity. As an example, a BelugaXL can accommodate two A350 jetliner wings, compared to one in the BelugaST.
With a maximum payload of 51 tonnes, the BelugaXL has a range of 4,000 km (2,200 nm).