Airplane finishes globe-circling flight without a drop of fuel

A 63-year-old former Swiss Air Force pilot and a hypnotherapist five years his junior with a penchant for hot-air balloon exploration completed a round-the-world trip in a solar-powered airplane, predicting that within a decade, commercial flights with electric aircraft will become a reality.

Bertrand Piccard, 58, touched down in his Solar Impulse at 4:05 a.m. in Abu Dhabi, completing the final leg of a 16-month multistage journey, the project team said in a statement Tuesday. The plane has flown 43,041 kilometers (26,750 miles) since starting the trip in March 2015.

“I’m sure that within 10 years, we’ll see electric airplanes transporting 50 passengers on short- to medium-haul flights,” Piccard said in the statement. “But it’s not enough. The same clean technologies used on Solar Impulse could be implemented on the ground in our daily life.”

Piccard took turns at the controls with  Andre Borschberg to circumnavigate the globe without using any fuel. Each pilot was allowed 10 20-minute naps over the course of 24 hours, and the longest leg took five days. Solar Impulse flew near the Statue of Liberty and Egypt’s pyramids for photo opportunities and was grounded for more than half a year in Hawaii due to battery overheating along the way.

“There is so much potential for the aeronautical world,” Borschberg said. “While 100 percent solar-powered airplanes might take longer to materialize, electric airplanes will develop in the near future.”

The pilots have been promoting the aircraft, which is made of ultralight materials and relies on 12,000 solar panels for power, as a symbol of options for alternative energy to stave off global warming. Piccard said that he wants Solar Impulse to revive interest in promoting clean technology.

“When you speak of climate change, it is so boring for everybody,” Piccard said in an interview on “Bloomberg Markets Middle East” with  Desley Humphrey. “Everybody knows it is a disaster, so why continuously repeat it? Now you have to give hope to people with real solutions, and they exist,” and “my hope is that people finally make a list of solutions rather than a list of problems.”