What is the idea of the company that you founded with Hervé Berardi, the president, and of which you are the pilot?
Raphaël Domjan.She is very romantic. Saint-Exupéry, Mermoz and the pioneers of Aéropostale made us dream. Nowadays, young people are wondering, they no longer really have access to this dream, because the air traffic is intense and polluting. From their point of view, it will no longer be possible to do parachuting, to fly in the same conditions, so we will travel less. It’s a bit sad. We are trying to open a new chapter in aviation. To give hope and show the young generation, concerned about the environment, that we can fly without emitting greenhouse gases. And in a much quieter manner. We are therefore redoing one of the routes of these pioneers with electric planes. Performance is still modest, but a hundred years ago they were at this stage. This time the progress will be much faster.
What is the difference in terms of driving?
The performance is very similar to that of a thermal airplane. There are still two problems: autonomy and the fact that there is hardly any infrastructure. We have to bring our own charger at each stage, so we have to have electric cars following us to transport them. But, in fifteen to thirty years, aviation will be clean: electric or hydrogen.
What is the timetable for this flight transition?
In the next five years, it will go very quickly. At this stage, the electrical devices will allow two hours to fly. This is the average autonomy in most flying clubs. In the process, the infrastructures will be deployed. Already 250 will be in Europe this year. Until now, there were no planes, so no need for chargers. Now we have two-seater and soon four-seater. Within five years, we can use them for parachuting. For commercial flights, the future will be with hydrogen. And since there is real political will, it can go very quickly. Ten years from now, I think.
Will we one day cross the Atlantic in an electric plane on Air France?
For the 50 seats, they will be electric motors. The energy vector will be hydrogen (produced with renewable energy), which has 3 times more energy than kerosene and 50% efficiency in a cell of this type, which will make it possible to obtain, properly, 6 times more usable energy than gasoline. And the autonomy will be greater than what we have with fossil fuel.
“I flew on tomorrow’s plane”
What strikes first is its size. Very small… And as soon as the engine is started, the absence of noise, of course. Next to Raphaël Domjan, the pilot who plans to reach the stratosphere in an electric plane, we take off from Valence airport in just a few meters. The start-up took little more than a minute, including driving. Our destination? Aix en Provence. 200 kilometers away. The project sponsors, Jean-François Clervoy, former astronaut and boss of Novespace, and Bertrand Piccard are waiting for us.
The plane seems easy, very easy to maneuver. There is “toy” in this Alpha Electro. With what this implies of uncertainties for the passenger as the altitude rises… By seeing the mountains in front of us, we cannot help asking if the power will be sufficient to cross them. Raphaël Domjan smiles and calms. Including when we see the display (10 minutes after takeoff!) On the range dial: 20 minutes! “We gain altitude to reach 3,000 feet. So we are drawing more on the batteries. It’s normal. Once stabilized up there, it will go up, ”he says. In fact, our cruising altitude reached, the figure climbs to 37 minutes of autonomy. We are reassured,even if we can not help thinking that we left for less than 13 minutes (the plane is given for 50 minutes of autonomy).
It becomes clear, as the flight unfolds, that it is risky to continue to Aix-en-Provence. Raphael checks his map, spots a tiny unused track at Plan de Dieu, near Orange, and warns the controllers. The landing takes place over a very few meters. We have a little the feeling of being “bush doctors” in Australia, in the middle of nowhere. After a few minutes, the “following” car with the charger joined us. Forty-five minutes later, the electric plane is ready to take off again.