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Tue 19 Feb 2008 04:14 PM

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Solar planes to soar in Middle East

Solar powered aeroplanes will eventually replace Middle East carriers' existing fleets if test flights next year prove successful.

Solar powered aeroplanes will eventually replace Middle East carriers' existing fleets if test flights next year prove successful.

Giovanni Bisignani, IATA's director general and CEO, signed a partnership agreement at the Singapore Airshow with Solar Impulse, which is developing the revolutionary aircraft.

According to Solar Impulse's president Bertrand Piccard, the plane will fly without fuel and produce zero emissions. The aircraft, which is under development, will be capable of flying day and night.

"Our future freedom relies on us converting to renewable energy sources as soon as possible," Piccard said. "In this sense, the vision set by IATA to eliminate all polluting emissions within the next 50 years is admirable."

Test flights will take place next year, with Piccard and Solar Impulse CEO André Borschberg scheduled to fly around the world on the plane in 2011. The round-world trip will involve five stopovers, with IATA ensuring the solar plane's smooth passage throughout the journey.

"Solar Impulse and IATA share a vision," Bisignani said. "We are natural partners. We are both looking towards a zero carbon emission future for air travel. Solar power is one of the building blocks that will make this happen. The Solar Impulse initiative is proof that with vision anything is possible - even carbon free flight."

Replacing existing aircraft with solar powered planes is a long-term strategy to reduce carbon emissions, according to Bisignani. "Achieving zero carbon passenger flights will not happen overnight," he said. "And no single initiative can provide all the answers. But the airline industry was born by realising a dream that people could fly.

"We can already see the potential building blocks for a carbon-free future: along with solar power, other exciting initiatives include progress in fuel cell technology, and fuel made from biomass. By working together with a common vision, an even greener industry is absolutely achievable."

If successful, the aircraft is expected to prove popular among global carriers, including Middle East airlines. But it's unclear when the plane would become operational in this region.

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Brian Cole 12 years ago

Giovanni Bisignani's calling it a long-term strategy to replace current commercial aircraft with solar powered ones may be termed visionary, but is short-sighted. The adventure, inspiration, and publicity gained from the Solar Impulse effort may be tremendous, but Bertran Russell's great adventure is not showing us the future of air transport. This promise of practicality is one solar car enthusiasts have made for over 20 years, yet even the multi million dollar cars demonstrated in Solar Challenges fall embarrassingly short of delivering on those promises. The realities of physics have to be largely disregarded to make such bold claims. Designing with a vision of on-board photovoltaics harvesting the energy needed hampers developing future transport solutions. The solar factor is relatively inconsequential, for pv placed atop the vehicle. On-ground pv might be used to make an energy-dense and cleaner fuel for aircraft use, but so could some other process, and it's not clear what solutions we'll have in the future. If the fuel carried by an aircraft is hydrogen, albeit hydrogen generated on the ground from solar energy, such future aircraft shouldn't be termed solar-powered. That'd be as confusing as pumping electricity into an battery-electric car, then variously terming that EV as wind powered, solar powered, or even nuclear powered, depending on what type of power plant produced the electricity. Just maybe, though, someone in France is driving around in an EV with "Nuclear Powered" emblazoned on the side! The electric drive is the significant thing, not replacing the commercial fleet with pv-laden ones. There will likely be little similarity between such future aircraft and Solar Impulse. The Solar Impulse is interesting as a design challenge within its proposed performance envelope. It's not on the evolutionary path to future commercial cargo or passenger aircraft. Perhaps a better glimpse of future replacement propulsion for today's air carriers is the electric propulsion technology explored by NASA.

Nida Farid 12 years ago

I think it is also tremendously naive, or may I call it ignorant, to think that an aircraft capable of carrying one human being, will replace an airline fleet. It will take decades for it be capable of carrying a dozen passengers, let alone 200-300, and that too in a commercially viable way.