Alexandre Feray is a French mountain climber, environmentalist, great traveler, and iconoclastic, passionate about developing innovative IT systems that reduce the impact of air travel on the environment. He has 28 years of experience in the Software and Airline Industry, not including his teen years when he invented a programming language awarded and commercialized by Apple.

He holds an MSc in Engineering and IT from École Centrale Paris and started his career at IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in New York, USA, working on the first multimedia email system for the Internet. He managed complex IT systems at Air France where he was the head architect of Air France Operations Control Center’s reengineering program and head of Air France Crew Management IT Department, leading a team of 50 people.

Starting from the observation that nearly 660 million tons of CO2 are emitted by airplanes every year, he founded OpenAirlines in 2006 to develop digital solutions to help airlines reduce their costs and environmental impact. Drawing on 8 years of R&D, SkyBreathe® eco-flying software came out on the market in 2013. Using an extensive collection of flight data, Cloud and Artificial Intelligence, the software provides guidance and a series of recommended actions to help pilots lower fuel use. The prize-winning solution is currently helping +48 airlines save million dollars and CO2 emissions every year.

Alexandre has authored and co-authored two essential books on sustainable aviation: “The Green Airlines Fuel Book,” a booklet to raise awareness of fuel-saving best practices and help spread the fuel-efficiency culture in airlines. And “Decarbonizing aviation: mission possible”, a series of educational blog articles (which will be printed in summer 2021).

In 2021, he initiated Green Pilot, a collective movement of like-minded airline professionals and aviation lovers concerned about climate change, and committed to promoting green actions to reduce aviation impact.

We invited Alexandre as part of our Sustainability Month to talk to us about the Green Pilot movement, sustainable innovation in aviation, and what you can do on an individual level to help curb emissions.

Can you give us a brief overview of the purpose of the Green Pilot movement?

Aviation represents 3% of global emissions, and that figure could double by 2030. The industry faces pressures from all sides, environmental, social, and economical. It requires them not just to act together, cooperate and show solidarity, but it also forces them to accelerate their transition to sustainable development. They need to recreate bonds with their customers and show the world how much it is possible to love aviation AND our planet. That’s why we created the Green Pilot movement to bring pilots together to enact real change.

Pressured by the race against global warming, the airline industry pursues multiple technological paths to reduce its carbon footprint. We want to strengthen synergies between members to promote green actions and eliminate as much CO2 as possible to make air travel as efficient and economical as it can be. We also aim to raise awareness of the world aviation industry’s efforts for the environment because people are not always aware of those actions. We think that information needs to be spread on a larger scale. If aviation is encouraged, acknowledged, and helped in its transformation, it will develop existing initiatives and tap into new ideas.

How is Green Pilot supporting pilots and airlines on the path towards the decarbonization of the industry?

Pilots are key players in the energy transition of aviation. For instance, if all airlines in the world were applying fuel efficiency practices on their flights, estimations show that they could prevent 20 to 50 million tons of carbon emissions! Of course, fuel efficiency practices and carbon emissions offsetting alone would not be enough to save the world. However, they can change behaviors and promote energy transition. Green Pilot supports these best practices by bringing these actors together and encouraging them to exchange and share their advice and recommendations.

Can you give us some examples of how pilots on an individual basis can help to reduce emissions?

At each phase of a flight, pilots can act to reduce their emissions. This may include the preparation of the aircraft: we calculate the impact of a clean engine for example. The preparation of the flight: choice of routes depending on the weather, of congestion based on time of day, etc.. It may concern the execution of the flight: advocate where a continuous descent is possible (versus traditional step descent), the use or not of the thrust reversers, the configuration of the wings, shut-down an engine during taxi.

For example, they can use the Ground Power Unit instead of the Auxiliary Power Unit to supply the aircraft with electricity. During the cruise phase, pilots can request direct routes from air traffic control and thus benefit from shortcuts that save time and reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Another example, during the final approach and landing, reducing the flaps configuration and using thrust reversers on “idle mode” can decrease the aircraft’s drag and reduce fuel consumption. Finally, when taxiing, switching off one of the engines is also a good practice.

By combining all these practices, pilots can save several hundred kg of jet fuel and significantly reduce the impact of their flight on the environment.

What do you think is/are the most promising technology(ies) to have arisen to help us reduce emissions from aviation?

The aviation industry has taken steps to address rising emissions. In 2009, it set ambitious targets that include carbon-neutral growth from 2020 onward and halving its net emissions from 2005 levels by 2050. Billions are invested in electrical aircraft, hydrogen aircraft, biofuels, operational or ATM improvements. I would not say that one technology is more promising than another. I believe that all these ideas, all these technologies do not compete against one another, but it is the combination of them all that will make achieving this goal possible.

As Bertrand Piccard said: “There is no miracle technology, but the miracle is that all these technologies together will make possible the ecological and energetic transition.”

There are massive hurdles to reach this goal, incredible challenges, but there are also thousands of people who are working their hearts out, night and day, to deliver on this promise.

In your opinion, what is something that the world is not talking about, but that we should be talking about when it comes to sustainability?

Generally, I think the only way for companies that carry out ecological solutions to be implemented is to surpass polluting companies in their field. People dot not easily change their habits, and the transition cannot and should not come at the expense of mobility, comfort, and economic growth development, especially in the poorest countries. Sustainability does not have to be opposed to profitability, and the implementation of solutions like SkyBreathe shows it. By reducing their fuel consumption, airlines reduce both their costs and their environmental footprint while better excelling in their operations.

The one thing that will set companies apart moving forward is the ability to balance sustainability and profitability. And they should do it by taking risks and trying new things. You never know what amazing innovations will come and what they can do to help improve an industry as a whole.

Concerning aviation, I’m an optimist. I am convinced that aircraft will be cleaner in the future. It is a matter of survival for the industry. Aircraft are an invaluable asset that brings people, cultures, promotes trade, and even environmental awareness. To do without aircraft seems unimaginable to me. To continue burning so much fuel and fossil fuel seems to me just as unimaginable.

It was only 50 years between the Wright brothers’ first twelve-second flight and the arrival of commercial jets. With modern means, by concentrating our forces, there is no reason not to arrive at a totally decarbonized aviation in 50 years, and even before.

There are considerable difficulties, of course, and this will be done gradually, first with more aircraft optimization, engines or operations (which we contribute to) or air traffic control, with sustainable aviation fuels and technological disruptions such as hydrogen or synthetic fuels, which I’m sure, will be changemakers.

I’m convinced that by federating efforts and joining our forces into this adventure, we will move forward more efficiently. But, this is only the beginning.

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