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Solar Impulse to resume round the world flight after securing $20m, pilot Bertrand Piccard named UN


This week at the United Nations Climate Summit in Paris, Solar Impulse founders Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard announced the Solar Impulse 2 (SI2) will resume its around the world mission next April, after receiving additional funding and repairs. The Swiss solar-powered plane whose record-setting, round-the-world flight was put on hold in July by weather and battery trouble has raised the $20 million it needs to finish the trip, co-founder and pilot Andre Borschberg said. Borschberg, at the United Nations’ Paris climate summit with co-pilot Bertrand Piccard, said backers that include chemical maker Solvay, Swiss lift maker Schindler, power grid maker ABB and Swatch’s Omega brand, made contributions.

Borschberg and Piccard had hoped to finish the 35,000 km (21,748 mile), multileg circumnavigation in 2015, leaving from Abu Dhabi in March. First, crosswinds in China caused weeks of delays. Then, when its batteries overheated during a record-breaking five-day, five-night Pacific crossing from Japan to Hawaii in July, the plane was forced to winter inside a hangar at Kalaeloa. “The financial side is under control,” Borschberg, a former Swiss Air Force fighter pilot and co-founder of Solar Impulse, told Reuters. “We are all very focused and looking forward to continuing next year,” said the 62-year-old, who flies solo, alternating between pit-stops with Piccard at the controls of the single-seat plane.

Solar Impulse’s budget since 2004 is now some $170 million. The plane has 17,248 solar cells, a wider wing-span than a Boeing 747 and weighs as much as a five-seater family car. Borschberg said he plans to start test flights around March and, barring obstacles, the 2,500-mile leg from Hawaii to North America starts in April, when daylight hours are sufficient to recharge the batteries. West Coast stops have been left open to accommodate potentially fickle weather. Vancouver, as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles or Phoenix are all candidates, Borschberg said. They also reckon on a U.S. Midwest pit-stop followed by New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, before crossing to either Europe or North Africa and, finally, Abu Dhabi. “We know we can do it, but it remains a challenge,” Borschberg said. He hopes a year’s delay will not undermine the message: deploying renewable energy technology will help stop climate change. “That’s what we used to make it feasible to fly day and night with the sun only,” he said. “That’s what we certainly could implement on a larger scale.”

The shift to new technologies is required if the world is serious about tackling climate change, Bertrand Piccard, initiator and chairman of Solar Impulse, a Swiss long-range experimental solar-powered aircraft project, said. "Climate change is not mysterious, it is a result of old technologies that we are still using," Bertrand Piccard said at the Action Day, a part of the 21st UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, adding that "we should all switch to new technologies." He stressed that investment in new technologies was profitable and created new jobs, so it was wrong to name fight against climate change expensive. Over 50 high-profile politicians joined the Action Day to show commitment to curbing climate change.

The visionary behind the UAE-backed Solar Impulse, the only aircraft capable of flying day and night without using a drop of fuel, was named as the United Nations Environment Programme Goodwill Ambassador. Bertrand Piccard received his designation during a ceremony in Paris where he is advocating an ambitious climate-change agreement and more investment in renewable energy at the Cop21 meeting. “This designation is an encouragement to continue showing how many incredible things can be done with renewable energies, but also to implement more energy efficient technologies in our world,” Mr Piccard said.

As Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme, every hour of his flight and preparations will be an opportunity for him and the Solar Impulse team to bring those people closer to a vision Unep has advocated and supported in our work for many years.

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