Thursday, September 21, 2017

Solar-powered plane comes in for local landing

Landing in Myanmar is a stop of special significance for the pilot of Solar Impulse 2, the solar-powered plane currently on its way around the world.

Solar Impulse 2, the world’s only solar powered aircraft, takes off from the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in the Indian city of Ahmedabad. Photo: AFPSolar Impulse 2, the world’s only solar powered aircraft, takes off from the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in the Indian city of Ahmedabad. Photo: AFP

“For me, it’s symbolic,” pilot and innovator Bertrand Piccard told The Myanmar Times from inside the plane’s cockpit yesterday morning, ahead of a landing due late last night.

Mr Piccard has left Varanasi, India, for Mandalay on the fourth leg of the aircraft’s shot at circling the earth. 

Mr Piccard first touched down in Myanmar 17 years ago on a failed attempt at floating around the world in a balloon. He said the country offered a warm welcome. 

“This time I’m coming with Solar Impulse,” he said, adding he appreciated the country, people, temples and spirituality of Myanmar.

Mr Piccard represents one half of the duo behind Solar Impulse. He will trade off flying the aircraft with his pilot partner André Borschberg.

Though weather delays have set back the plane’s schedule, the flight represents a feat of engineering and renewable energy development. Solar Impulse 2 weighs as much as a car and has wings bigger than those of a jumbo jet housing 17,000 solar cells, according to its website.

Mr Piccard said solar power was a source of peace and development, and that boosting renewable energy resources will up the quality of air and water, leading to better quality of life.

“When everyone can have his own energy,” Mr Piccard said, “this is a way to have peace.” 

President U Thein Sein met with Mr Borschberg and Mr Piccard last year and expressed how important it was for Myanmar to have solar power, Mr Piccard said. 

The pilot is to touch down in Mandalay as part of the plane’s trip around the world. Upon landing, he said he will thank the Solar Impulse team.

“Then I will say hello to the people of Myanmar,” he said.

The trip has also faced some regulatory concerns during its trip, which began in Abu Dhabi earlier this month. The plane’s previous stop, in the city of Ahmedabad, was mired by bureaucratic delays, with Mr Piccard voicing his frustration over tedious paperwork.

Mr Piccard said their flight to Varanasi had been delayed by five days thanks to administrative hurdles the team faced while in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.

An airport official in Ahmedabad, however, blamed the hold up on Mr Piccard’s failure to get his passport stamped when he initially landed for the delay.

Additional reporting by AFP