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Airbus Beluga Transport Receives Air Operator’s Certificate

Airbus will take over operations from Air Transport International.

Beluga #3 takes off from Novosibirsk Airport in Russia on its final destination to Kobe, Japan. (Photo: Airbus)

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has announced that Airbus Beluga Transport, its air cargo service, has received its own Air Operator Certificate (AOC), Airbus said in a statement. This effectively makes this cargo arm its own standalone airline.

Since Airbus Beluga Transport was founded a couple of years ago, its flights have been operated by Air Transport International, similarly to how Atlas Air operates the Boeing Dreamlifters. As the change in operators takes place, aircraft will transfer from Air Transport International’s fleet register to Airbus Beluga Transport’s. Legally, the aircraft are considered to be on lease from Airbus.

A Boeing Dreamlifter aircraft (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Zera)

Airbus Beluga Transport started the process to receive its own certificate in June 2023. Its documentation was approved in September, and the operator subsequently had to receive a Continuous Airworthiness and Maintenance Organisation certificate.

This allows Airbus Beluga Transport to schedule and control continuing airworthiness activities on aircraft and their own parts; in other words, it allows Airbus Beluga Transport to do its own maintenance.

The operator will be headquartered close to the Blagnac airport, and its operating base will be at the Francazal near Toulouse. From there, the iconic Airbus Beluga aircraft will prepare for missions, including loading and unloading transport pallets. Aircraft maintenance will also occur at this base.

Pilot Hiring and Training

Airbus Beluga Transport is starting flights on the existing Airbus network. Company management says it wants to get its crews experienced with short-haul flights, to places such as Saint Nazaire, Hamburg, Bremen, and Sevilla, which are already relatively familiar and routine. The company will also test internal procedures and train new crewmembers.

“The ramp-up of both the operations and the crew training and also the ground support team training is a big challenge,” said Olivier Schneider, who will serve as head of flight operations for Airbus Beluga Transport. “We’re learning ‘on-the-fly’ since this type of operation is something brand new for many of the team.”

“Moreover, even if Beluga has been flying from time to time on external long-haul missions, it’s one thing to plan and undertake one long mission, but it’s quite different to perform several of them in the same week,” Schneider continued.

Airbus Beluga Transport will focus on flying Airbus parts around Europe. It hopes to get certified to carry a wider range of Airbus products, most notably helicopters and military aircraft. This will allow it to transport cargo for both Airbus and external customers that operate these types of aircraft.

For the moment, the operator is looking for pilots with experience on Airbus A300 and A310 jets to apply for positions with the company. Pilots will need specific training in Beluga operations due to the unique challenges of flying such a particular aircraft. Airbus Beluga Transport is looking to take to the skies this fall.

John McDermott


  • John McDermott

    John McDermott is a student at Northwestern University. He is also a student pilot with hopes of flying for the airlines. A self-proclaimed "avgeek," John will rave about aviation at length to whoever will listen, and he is keen to call out any airplane he sees, whether or not anyone around him cares about flying at all. John previously worked as a Journalist and Editor-In-Chief at Aeronautics Online Aviation News and Media. In his spare time, John enjoys running, photography, and watching planes approach Chicago O'Hare from over Lake Michigan.

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