Battle of the giants: Can the Airbus Beluga take on the Antonov An-124?

Battle of the giants: Can the Airbus Beluga take on the Antonov An-124?

When it comes to shipping large quantities and pieces, nothing is easy. With international sanctions imposed Antonov An-124 Russian-run giants are looking for alternative ways to supply their high volume and heavy equipment, parts and materials, including Rolls-Royce, which admitted it is in talks with Airbus to use Beluga ST transport your engines.

But can the Beluga be an alternative to the traditional Antonov? The answer is complex. Therefore, we compared several characteristics of each of the giants to better describe the characteristics of each of them.


Antonov An-124-100M Airbus A300-600ST
Maximum load 150 tons 40 tons
High volume 1,040 m³ 1,500 m³
load height 36.5 m 39.1 m
load width 6.4 m 7.1 m
load height 4.4 m 7.1 m
speed of travel 800-850 km / h 780 km/h
Independent (maximum load) 4,400 kilometers 1,650 kilometers

Whale or dolphin?

Similarly, there is great confusion regarding the animal that gave the Beluga its name, a whale or a dolphin (not two), and it is not clear which Airbus aircraft it is.

The first generation was designed in the 1990s to serve as transport between Airbus hubs around the world, bringing a large part to the assembly lines of its aircraft.

and the advent of new generation Beluga (XL) in 2019, old Beluga ST started offering services also for third parties in the transportation of large cargoes. Hence the possibility of working together with Rolls-Royce.

Airbus Beluga ST at Viracopos Airport, in Campinas (Thiago Vinholes)

As its purpose was to transport large, already assembled parts from one factory to another, the Beluga ST has the largest volume capacity currently available on the market, at 1,500 cubic meters.

The Airbus model also has a large “mouth” opening to accommodate larger, longer or higher volumes. However, the Beluga ST is only a dolphin compared to the payload capacity of the Antonov: 40 versus 150 tons, respectively.

Antonov An-124-100M Airbus A300-600ST
Height 69.1 m 56.1 m
Wingspan 73.3 m 44.8 m
Height 21.8 m 17.2 m
Independent (maximum load) 4,400 kilometers 1,650 kilometers
speed of travel 800-850 km / h 780 km/h


Designed in the 1970s as a military vehicle, the Antonov is synonymous with heavy duty and versatile. Since the beginning of its operation, it has been breaking records. In 1987, the An-124 traveled 20,000 kilometers without refueling in a confined flight of 25 hours and 30 minutes.

In 1991, 129 tons were exported from Spain to New Caledonia. In 1993, the record rose to 135 tons, on a trip between Germany and India.

However, all these records were soon surpassed by the Antonov An-225 “Mriya”, the older brother of the An-124, whose only unit was. destroyed by the Russians in the invasion of Ukraine.

Antonov An-124 at Cabo Frio (Cabo Frio Airport)

load types

The Beluga has been used to transport items from space stations, helicopters, airplane wings, artwork, chemical tanks, and even a collection of vintage airplanes to an air show in the United States.

However, access to the Beluga cargo bay requires the airport to have special equipment to reach a height of 5.5 meters for one deck.

Antonov is famous for carrying turbines, generators, engines, rockets and satellites. In 2005, an An-124 plane returned the 160-ton obelisk from Italy to its home country of Ethiopia, which required the expansion of the local airport just to receive the plane.

Unlike the Beluga, the Antonov can “kneel” and be carried by ramps, rails and internal motors, without the need for a lot of ground equipment. However, its deck design significantly reduces the height of the items to be transported.

Antonov An-124
SpaceX satellite loading into Airbus container (Antonov Airlines)


Yes, the Beluga can be an alternative to the Antonov, but only in certain situations, for example for transporting larger or weaker parts. However, they cannot be too heavy.

The Airbus plane is very special, like the Beluga animal, which is not a whale or a dolphin, but part of the family. Monodontidae. Apart from the Beluga, this family only includes the narwhal, a toothed whale that has a kind of horn on top of its head. That is, they are wonderful and unique animals.

The Antonov is still the best choice for heavy loads due to the power of its four Maendeleo D-18T thrusters, versus the two GE CF6 Belugas, which carry more and more payload than the Beluga. Definitely the most versatile, Ukrainian cargo should follow the most sought after.

PHOTOS: See more photos of the Airbus Beluga ST and the Antonov An-24