Business aviation faces environmental challenge

EBACE Convention News » 2007
May 22, 2007, 9:15 PM

European politicians and the wider environmental lobby have made it clear that aviation is firmly in their sights in the struggle to halt what is broadly perceived as manmade global warming. Yesterday, here in the opening session of the EBACE conference, the business aviation community made it   clear that they aren’t hiding from the issue. The message was that, while bizav won’t shirk its environmental responsibilities, it wants a realistic approach to strategies such as emissions trading.

EBAA and NBAA chief executives yesterday sent a strong signal that the environment is well ahead of many other hot-button issues on business aviation’s agenda. “The environment has never been so important in our agenda,” EBAA president Brian Humphries said. NBAA’s Ed Bolen agreed, noting that “there is no greater issue than the environment.” A session on emissions trading will take place today in Hall 7, Salon 1 at 2 p.m. and no doubt the room will be crammed full with anxious business aircraft operators.

The keynote speaker at EBACE 2007’s opening general session was famous balloonist Bertrand Piccard, who is now building the first solar-powered airplane to fly around the world. He gave a striking presentation on his ideas of how renewable energy sources can help change the future of aviation.

Piccard was allotted most of the session’s time. “Let’s get rid of the common assumptions,” he urged the audience. He reminded that his father discovered that there was some fish life seven miles deep in the ocean. This was evidence of oxygen’s presence there–hence the existence of vertical currents. This stalled plans for using deep ocean trenches as mankind’s garbage dumps.

Similarly, Piccard said he believes that if his team succeeds in having its solar-powered airplane (see related story on page 59) flying at night, it will give renewable energies rock-solid credibility. “No one will be able to say renewable energies do not work or could work only for a marginal percentage of human needs,” he said. The Solar Impulse prototype’s first flight through the night is pegged for 2009. A U.S. remote-controlled model has flown 48 hours already.

Piccard made it clear that he does not foresee solar-powered commercial airplanes flying fast with heavy payloads. But he suggested that biofuel could be produced on the ground using solar energy. The process would not emit any CO2, which many scientists say is the main contributor to global warming.

The Swiss pioneer definitely sees the Solar Impulse project as a symbol. “If the pilot wastes his energy, he will crash before sunrise,” he said. He also noted that General Motors has become a junk bond on the stock market, while Toyota is now the number-one car maker, notably thanks to its hybrid models. Nevertheless, Piccard stated that “aviation still has to lead the game in the future” in part because the general public has put this segment of transportation squarely in its pro-green crosshairs. The Solar Impulse concept is being tested here in Geneva in a virtual computer flight. It took off on Monday at 6:20 p.m. and will land late on Thursday or early on Friday, virtually flying at an average 40 knots.

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