Beluga XL as a Passenger Plane

With the departure of the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380, the Beluga XL is likely to become the largest commercial aircraft in production in the world. With its large hump and vast interior space, it is perfectly suited for carrying aircraft components, like a pair of Airbus A350 wings, across Europe.

However, looking at the aircraft, you can’t help but wonder if Airbus ever gave any thought to converting these planes back into passenger usage. After all, wouldn’t it have all the advantages of the Airbus A380 but with twin-jet economics?

Today, we will be doing just that! Breaking down the Beluga XL into a passenger aircraft, seeing how many it could carry, and if the idea even makes any sense. Let’s dive in.

If you haven’t already seen part one of this post about why the Beluga XL exists, then you can check it out here – it’s quite a catch.

So, you managed to get your hands on a new Beluga XL; how? why? who knows, but now you have sent me a crazy email to turn it into a passenger plane.

Let’s start by seeing what we have to work with.


Size … 

The Beluga XL is 63.1 m (207 ft.) long, and it has a wingspan of 60.3 m (197 ft. 10 inches), which is around the size of an Airbus A330-200 – what the Beluga XL is based on. The real advantage is the internal space – 2209 m3 (78010 ft3) of it.

The internal area of the plane is 46.56 meters long, 7.7 meters wide, not including the sublevel cargo deck for freight, and 7.9 meters high. Compared to the external cross-section of the A380, it’s actually bigger on the inside.

The A380 has a fuselage dimension of 8.4 m high, its cabin is 6.54 m wide and 50.68 m long. Meaning our bad boy XL can fit so much in it.

Seats … 

So, let’s install some seats – time to do some math. Looking at the cross-section of the plane, it’s clear that we can fit in two decks. Each deck would have a twin-aisle design. These two aisles would be 40 inches combined width, or one meter, leaving us 670 cm, or 264 inches to play with. If each seat was an average 18 inches wide, or 46 cm, that means we can fill in 14 and half seats across … This would have to be in a 3-4-4-3 configuration. It seems that we have created a monster, friends. We might have to take out a seat in the middle to make a third aisle, so we will say 14 seats.

If the seats have 31 inches of legroom, or 70 cm, then we could fit in 55 or so rows, leaving room for door spaces.

This would mean on one deck; 14 in 55 rows would be 770 passengers in total, if all economy in the tightest configuration. If we include the second level, it’s likely we could get this plane to 1200 passengers, if all economy, or close to. We would lose some more space for toilets, galleys, and stairs, as well as the lower level being narrower than upstairs.

Premium space … 

Naturally, we want to include some premium space for our more … esteemed viewers, which would mean bumping off around 500 passengers, and including a full cabin of 22-inch business class seats instead on the lower deck. This deck, being based on the A330-200 fuselage, would be the smaller with 525.78 cm or 17 feet and 3 inches across. This space would have the same twin aisles, and fit six business class seats in a 1-2-1 open suite configuration. At 78 inches of legroom, or 200 cm per seat, we could fit 20 or so rows, give or take areas for doors, galleys and a bar – because I love bars on planes. This is four passengers per row, or 80 passengers in total.

This gives us a total capacity of around 880 passengers. The A380 by comparison is rated for 538 on the main deck and 330 on the upper. Yeah, suck it Airbus A380!

Plane width … 

The width of the plane would also lead to some pretty crazy ideas, such as including suites, private cabins, and even restaurant and dining areas. After all, remember that cargo subdeck I mentioned? It’s a cozy 16 meters long and shares the same width as upstairs. If not filled with the passengers’ suitcases, this deck could be a boarding lounge like the L-1011, or a private sleeping cabin.

The cockpit would be secluded away on this deck as well, with four passenger seats for crew members.

Because the aircraft has a giant door on the front, this could be used as a way to very quickly board and disembark passengers – after all, the front of the plane comes off and everyone could just walk off. Alternatively, the front of the plane could just house a window that passengers can look out of, after all, the cockpit isn’t in the way.

Do you know the craziest part of this idea? This aircraft could be a combi plane. Because of the way it’s designed, who is to say that a passenger section couldn’t be slotted in and out when needed! If the airline wanted to operate cargo-only flights, then it could pull out the passenger ‘tube’ from the cargo compartment and slot in cargo decks instead!

The plane would also only have the footprint of an Airbus A330, and that would mean it could land at smaller airports and require no change to airport gates. Although to board so many passengers at once, the airports would likely use multiple jet bridges. This means that the plane would be very attractive to airlines and be incredibly flexible to fly nearly to any airport in the world.

Performance issues with the design: 

Now … let’s be serious, there are some performance issues with the design.

This plane has a cruise speed of only 37 km/h (458 mph, 398 km), Mach 0.69. Meaning it takes a bit longer to get where you need to go. It also only flies at a lower 11,000 m (35,000 ft.), which would make it slightly more susceptible to clouds and other weather events.


Lastly, and this is the kicker, it only has a range of 2,300 nautical miles, or 4,300 kilometers. London to New York is 5571.55 km or 3008.39 nautical miles – putting this plane out of practical use for arguably one of the most popular routes in the world. But that being said, that’s at max payload of 227,000 kg (500,449 lb). And passengers don’t weigh that much.

If we have 600 passengers on board with an average weight of 75 kg or around 165 pounds, then that’s a total of 45,000 kg or nearly 1000 pounds, which is nearly the upper weight limit already. These passengers need something to sit on: entertainment, food, water, windows, bathrooms and more, adding up the weight (and that level in between the decks doesn’t come cheap.

Fuel … 

Also, the plane itself needs fuel, at least 73,000 kg of it to fly its maximum distance, and another 22, 000 to reach New York, making it around 100,000 kg of fuel in total. That’s not all, we also need additional fuel for alternative destinations due to bad weather, thirty minute for holding flight, and another thirty minutes for holding time circling, and additional fuel for an engine going out of flight, if the plane itself can fly loaded with just one engine, adding this all up, you come to an upper limit of 188 passengers with no luggage leaving most of the plane empty and with barely anything in the tank.

Realistically, you would have just paid for a ticket in a giant paperweight that couldn’t even leave Toulouse, let alone cross the Atlantic. At least, there would be plenty of legroom.

Now you are likely thinking, this is great, but this is never going to happen. Well, maybe, because it turns out that Airbus fully intends to sell or rent off the Beluga aircraft at the end of their service life at Airbus – likely within the next 20 years. This means that this aircraft could see a second life for all sorts of operations, including passenger. Airbus recently has gone as far to ask for ETOPS certification to fly the aircraft across oceans – meaning they are full considering either using these planes for overseas charters, or even considering increased production.

Oh, and as for how many people asking what the Beluga whale can carry, well if you could tame it, perhaps around 2-3 like a giant Pokémon? But then again, what do I know, I’m a plane channel.

If you made it this far into the post and you haven’t checked out my part one, then you can do it here, where I go into the history of the type and why these aircraft are so fascinating.

Interestingly, you can take a quiz on this topic and find out how many questions you can answer correctly. It’s right here. Good luck!

As for the future of this series of turning crazy cargo planes into passenger planes, well there is a pretty big other aircraft I wouldn’t mind looking at … but that will have to wait till another time!

Thanks so much for sticking by today!


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