Airbus Beluga Transport Receives Air Operator Certificate (AOC)

Published: Monday, January 15, 2024

Airbus Beluga Transport (AiBT) has secured its air operator certificate (AOC) and is now able to operate as an airline using BelugaST freighters.

Airframer Airbus first launched outsized air-cargo service AiBT, operated by Airbus Transport International (ATI), in January 2022.

The BelugaSTs, which until 2021 were used to carry aircraft parts for Airbus, have now been officially transferred from ATI’s fleet register to AiBT’s.

Currently, the fleet includes three BelugaSTs, with the fourth one due for induction this year.

Transitioning to an airline has been a complex process, said Benoît Lemonnier, managing director of AiBT. The company initially hoped to gain its AOC in October last year.

“For our final dossier we had been compiling many documents during the first half of this year, encompassing Flight Safety, Flight Operations, Ground Operations, Technical Operations and Crew Training,” he explained, adding that the documents were submitted at the end of June 2023.

AiBT passed its audit by various authorities on September 26, then its “Continuous Airworthiness and Maintenance Organization” certificate (CAMO) was awarded at the beginning of November.

As well as focusing on paperwork, the company has been busy developing its facilities.

“We of course developed our facilities which included the new main office headquarters, close to Blagnac airport,” said Lemonnier.

“We also secured our aircraft operational base at Francazal airport near to Toulouse, with two dedicated parking spots.

“From there our ground crews have been developing the capacity and capabilities to prepare the Beluga and its missions, especially in terms of loading and unloading the transport pallets as well as managing and maintaining the aircraft.”

AiBT commenced short flights on the existing Airbus network in November, to destinations including Saint Nazaire, Hamburg, Bremen and Seville.

“This approach allows AiBT to test its internal procedures and to train everyone, especially the new pilots, before it resumes its core business of long-haul missions,” said Lemonnier.

AiBT is also focusing on expanding the scope of certified payloads that will be required for the transportation needs of external customers.

“So far we’ve delivered payloads mainly for Airbus Helicopters and Airbus Defence and Space in 2022/2023 and we’re going to expand our customer base in 2024,” predicted Lemonnier.

To accelerate this process, AiBT has forged an agreement with Airbus on further investment to certify the BelugaST to carry more types of helicopters, containers and aircraft engines. Having these certifications will open a significant market, which is what AiBT ultimately targets.

“Later in 2024 we also plan to ramp-up with what we call ‘external flights’, usually long-haul missions,” said Lemonnier. “We want to achieve three missions per month of that kind in 2024 – on top of the existing missions with the BelugaST throughout Europe in support of ATI’s service for Airbus’ production system.”

Olivier Schneider, who joined AiBT in May as head of flight operations, said that the new airline has been preparing for regular operations.

He said: “Our goal is to eventually operate the five Belugas at the same time around the world, which will be a challenge in terms of resources, anticipation and coordination.”

Airbus is replacing its BelugaST fleet with six new-generation BelugaXLs to support the ramp-up of its airliner production.