Airbus plans to charter out its whale-shaped Beluga transport planes — whose main job until now has been to ferry aircraft parts between its plants in Europe — to help other industries haul urgently-needed outsized machinery by air.
Airbus said the move to rent out spare capacity on its existing Beluga ST and new Beluga XL transporters would lead to the creation of a commercial-cargo airline subsidiary from 2023.
Weeks after ending output of the world’s largest passenger jet, the A380, Airbus is planning a new role for what could be the West’s largest commercial freighter by volume, the Beluga.
It is a rare example of aerospace “insourcing” tasks from other industries after years of farming out work externally, and if successful could pave the way for other services.
The 100% unit will work a commercial basis, Airbus said.
“It will get its revenues from its sales, and it will bear all its investments and operating costs,” a spokesman said.
Analysts say demand for outsized cargoes that can be transported without dismantling them has been rising, partly on the back of weakened supply chains. Logistics managers turn to oversized airplanes when there is no time to use sea lanes.
Until recently, Airbus had trouble meeting such demand because the aerospace industry was running at peak capacity.
But analysts say lower output of large passenger jets and an industry-wide slump during the pandemic have meant older Belugas have more time left on the clock than first expected.
“The Beluga ST are only at 50% of their life. They have been designed for 30,000 flight cycles and currently have an average of 15,000,” said Philippe Sabo, head of Airbus Transport International. A flight cycle is one take-off and landing.
Airbus cut average output by 40% when the pandemic hit and plans to restore and slightly increase output of singe-aisle jets by summer 2023. But wide-body output is expected to remain around half levels foreseen when Beluga XL was launched in 2014.
Airbus said there was no connection between the project to commercialize the Beluga fleet and planned production, however.
I stumbled across these beaching pilot whales on Stewart Island while tramping in 2018.
Three years ago I stood helpless, alone on a remote beach on Stewart Island, as 149 stranded pilot whales slowly died in front of me, a horror forever imprinted in my memory.
Kneeling in the soggy cold sand next to a baby whale crying for its mother, with no idea what was happening or how to save them, the powerlessness and hopelessness of my situation struck me as totally foreign and painful.
We live in a world where we control our lives, our destinies, with ease. But what happens when something so big and unnatural happens, and we find ourselves unable to do anything? We can launch billionaires into space, but we can’t save whales?
On that day on Stewart Island, my reality shattered. I never wanted to feel that powerless again when it comes to saving some of the most revered creatures on the planet.
We can make a difference when it comes to protecting our oceans and their marine mammals.
Hundreds of whales and dolphins strand in New Zealand every year.
A word that resonates with me is “kaitiaki” or guardian of the land, sea or sky. I don’t have the heritage or knowledge to interpret this at all, but others more learned than me say that “kaitiakitanga” is guardianship and protection.
It is a way of managing the environment, based on the Māori world view.
Many stories relate whales as kaitiaki themselves, guiding and accompanying canoes on their voyage to New Zealand.
Since then, humans have devastated (and still are devastating) whale populations. How can we shift this sad role back to being guardians? It’s something we can all do.
I never want anyone to go through what I had to endure when I came across a mass pilot whale stranding.
With no knowledge of what was happening and with no help, my feelings of hopelessness and grief consumed me for a long time.
It’s only now with the support of Project Jonah that my experience has been shaped into something with purpose and power. As soon as I could, I signed up for one of their marine mammal medic courses to train to be able to help at whale and dolphin strandings in New Zealand.
Alongside DOC and local iwi, Project Jonah helps rescue and protect marine mammals, as well as empowering and educating communities to care for these incredible creatures.
Three years later, educated and empowered with the knowledge of how to successfully refloat a stranded whale, I stood in the shallow waters of Farewell Spit, surrounded by dozens of Project Jonah medics and DOC workers as we worked to refloat a stranded pod of 49 whales. Twenty-eight survived thanks to us.
Whales are some of the most magnificent creatures on this planet. To see them struggle in the surf, burnt in the sun, torn from the sand is just unnatural. You only have to make eye contact with them once, hear their cries, to understand how special they are.
It’s not a rare thing for this to happen. Whales strand frequently here in New Zealand. In fact, we have some of the highest stranding rates in the world, and nowhere is a bigger hotspot than Farewell Spit in Golden Bay.
On average over 300 dolphins and whales strand each year here in New Zealand, making for complex events that can be tricky for us to navigate.
Usually the exact cause for stranding is unknown, but often it’s related to illness, injury, navigational error, or because of their strong social bonds. For example, one pilot whale can strand and the rest of the pod might follow it.
If you’ve ever seen a whale or dolphin in the wild, you know how special it is. If you’ve ever seen a whale or dolphin strand, you know how heartbreaking it is. If you’ve ever helped successfully refloat a stranded whale or dolphin, you know it’s the best feeling in the entire world! It’s our turn to be guardians for these extraordinary creatures.
Staying safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions at covid19.govt.nz.
ne upside to the realisation that we’ve been treating our oceans as a supersized rubbish tip? The growing popularity of schemes designed to protect their inhabitants, whether it’s National Marine Parks such as the UK’s Plymouth Sound, or Unesco’s World Heritage Marine Programme, which provides protection for areas like Western Australia’s Shark Bay.
The Whale Heritage Site scheme is the latest example. Established in 2015 by the World Cetacean Alliance, its purpose is to identify notable cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises) habitats, protecting these species by increasing awareness, encouraging community engagement and promoting responsible whale and dolphin-watching as ethical alternatives to seeing cetaceans in captivity. The scheme’s first two recipients were South Africa’s The Bluff, an area off the coast of Durban, and Australia’s Hervey Bay, an essential stop-off for migrating whales. In January 2021, it was announced that Europe’s first Whale Heritage Site is Tenerife-La Gomera Marine Area, off the coast of Tenerife.
So what’s the appeal of the Canary Islands? It turns out cetaceans head there for the same reason sun-starved tourists do (although the whales’ indulgence of choice is admittedly crustaceans, not cocktails). There’s year-round sun and warm, clear water and, in some areas, the ocean has a depth of 2,000m, which allows cetaceans to feast on a variety of species, ranging from plankton to squid. This staggering depth also provides protection from chilly currents sweeping in across the Atlantic – a major bonus for creatures who can’t simply hop onto dry land and flop onto a sun-lounger.
The area has 28 species of cetacean, although it’s the short-finned pilot whale that most visitors are desperate to spot. “Tenerife has one of the world’s few resident short-finned pilot whale populations,” says Katheryn Wise, wildlife campaign manager at World Animal Protection, which partners with the World Cetacean Alliance to roll out the Whale Heritage Site scheme. “The pilot whales here have unique hunting behaviours which haven’t been observed elsewhere. One example is their deep, high-speed dives to chase and capture squid.”
By highlighting areas such as the Tenerife-La Gomera Marine Area, it’s hoped that more people will understand the importance of these creatures. “Cetaceans are great indicators of ecosystem health,” says Jacobo Marrero, a Tenerife-based cetacean expert. “They alert us if there are imbalances, and play an essential role in maintaining the equilibrium. Without these apex predators, the natural balance is easily disrupted.”
South Africa’s Whale Heritage Site – known as The Bluff – is a great example of one which has come full circle. In the early 1900s it was home to the world’s largest land-based whaling operation. Every year, crew manning Durban’s South African Whaling Company’s ships harpooned around 100 whales between March and September, and black and white pictures show enormous carcasses being hauled along a purpose-built railway. A century later, in 2019, The Bluff became the world’s first Whale Heritage Site. Today, an annual Welcoming of the Whales Festival, along with guided walks and tours of the former whaling station, allows locals to learn more about cetaceans. Only two closely monitored whale-watching operations can operate, which brings us on to another benefit of Whale Heritage Sites: to qualify, judges require proof that there are mechanisms in place to safeguard cetaceans’ welfare and to reduce threats.
“In Tenerife for example, stakeholder groups are committed to reducing the number of illegal whale-watching operators and to encouraging tourists to use responsible, sustainable operators,” says Elizabeth Cuevas, Whale Heritage Sites manager at the World Cetacean Alliance. “Meanwhile, at California’s Dana Point Whale Heritage Site, the panel identified plastic pollution as a major threat, so there’s a focus on initiatives which reduce plastic pollution. At future sites, ship strikes may be a concern, so the conservation measures may look different again.”
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At a time when there’s growing pressure on organisations such as SeaWorld to abandon shows featuring cetaceans, Whale Heritage Sites don’t just highlight areas where these creatures can be seen in the wild, but ensure that there are measures to protect them. “By raising their prominence, we hope to reduce the demand to see these creatures in tanks, and bring us closer to our vision of making this the last generation of cetaceans in captivity,” says Wise.
In a nutshell, the scheme is about making cetaceans the stars of the show, but in a very different way. It’s about engaging communities and convincing people to care about these marvellous creatures. And not a moment too soon. “The status of many cetacean species is vulnerable to critical,” says Dylan Walker, the World Cetacean Alliance’s chief executive. “Extinction is just around the corner for some, and Whale Heritage sites are a critical tool which allows us to prioritise their protection in the places where they’re clinging on.”