Airbus Beluga spotted at Kolkata airport after 23 years

A whale-shaped Airbus Beluga plane that raises eyebrows and brings smiles to the faces of people wherever it goes became the talk of the town as it touched down at Kolkata airport on Saturday, May 21 evening.

Carrying two helicopters in its massive cabin that is nearly four times the size of a normal wide-body aircraft, the Beluga took off late on Sunday, May 22 to fly to Pattaya in Thailand. This was the second time the aircraft had visited Kolkata, the last being 23 years ago in 1999.

The Airbus A300 B4-608 ST super transporter or Beluga is a version of the standard A3000-600 wide-body airliner modified to carry aircraft parts and oversized cargo. It landed in Kolkata around 9 PM on Saturday, May 21 and was guided to parking bay No. 16 for a 24-hour crew halt.

Carrying two helicopters in its massive cabin that is nearly four times the size of a normal wide-body aircraft, the plane took off late on Sunday to fly to Pattaya in Thailand.

The Beluga had taken off from the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, on May 18 and stopped at Marseilles, Athens, Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Ahmedabad before reaching Kolkata. The aircraft’s next stop is Pattaya, Thailand.

“Since last night, the plane has become the star attraction at the airport with airline ground staff and airport operational staff taking vantage points to click selfies with the aircraft in the backdrop. You can’t help smiling when looking at the cute whale/dolphin-faced plane. Given its size, you cannot miss it if you are in the operational area,” said an airport official.

The Beluga is nearly six-storey high and its wingspan is almost 45m. Its internal cargo hold is 124ft long, 23ft wide and 23ft high.

The Beluga that created the sensation in Kolkata has been in service since March 1996 and has done 3,109 flights with accumulated 4,816 flying hours. Kolkata airport officials said this was its second halt at Kolkata airport. There are four other such planes in service and a BelugaXL that is bigger.

A Beluga had touched down at Kolkata in 1999 with the giant painting Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix, which had hung in the Louvre in Paris since 1874. That year, it was flown to Tokyo via Bahrain and Kolkata.

The painting measuring 3 m × 3.6 m was too large to fit into a Boeing B747. It was transported in the vertical position inside a special pressurized container provided with isothermal protection and an anti-vibration device.

“Is it a whale? Is it a plane? It’s the #Beluga! Yes we are mesmerised by this beast, are you?”, the Kolkata airport’s Twitter handles posted its excitement on Sunday, May 22 afternoon. The excitement was reciprocated among fliers as well.

Soumen Mukherjee, a passenger, posted a photograph of the aircraft and tweeted: “Airbus Beluga spotted in Kolkata, probably a refuelling stop, nevertheless a very rare visitor.”