Airbus introduced its large-scale air cargo service, Airbus Beluga Transport (AiBT), in January 2022, less than two years ago. Airbus Transport International (ATI) is the operator of this service.
However the plan has always been to establish a specialty airline with its own Air Operator Certificate (AOC). After granting the latter, we speak with Olivier Schneider, the head of flight operations at AiBT, and Benoît Lemonnier, the managing director, to find out how this was accomplished and what obstacles are still ahead.
The official transfer of the BelugaSTs from ATI’s fleet register to AiBT’s (leased from Airbus) was the other key tenet of the developing enterprise. There are currently three aircraft in AiBT’s fleet; a fourth is scheduled to be introduced in 2024.
AiBT is initially launching with flights on the current Airbus network. It is imperative that flying crews and ground teams gain experience with short flights contracted by ATI rather than beginning with lengthy, complex worldwide flights. These flights began operating in November, with destinations including Saint Nazaire, Bremen, Hamburg, and Sevilla. This strategy enables AiBT to train all personnel, including the new pilots, and test its internal protocols before it returns to its primary activity of long-haul flights, according to Benoît.
Recruiting and training new Beluga pilots
To close this gap, 12 pilots from ATI have agreed to become captains or first officers for a maximum of three years with AiBT. Following this temporary assignment, these pilots will return to ATI to operate the growing number of A330-200 BelugaXLs.
In the meantime, AiBT is actively seeking pilots from outside the company; nine of them have already been hired, making a total of about 36 pilots needed by 2026.