“Les Aéronautes de Monaco” brings together two of Monaco’s favourite preoccupations: sport and environmental conservation. Members of this unique club are used to literally having their heads in the clouds, as it is a club for hot air ballooning. The team has repeatedly taken part in many competitions and last year they took first place in the eco-friendly Balloon concept challenge. «Les Aéronautes de Monaco» does exciting and unusual air tours, including the club’s most ambitious projects of taking off from the red square in Moscow. This year, together with their partner, champagne Jeeper, they will fly the world’s first eco hot air balloon.
The founder of the club, Alain Cruteanschii, is well established in the industry and knows the secrets of aeronautics like no other. He is taking the future on, not only minding the success of his company, but also minding the planet.
In January, the club presented a new and innovative project in Monaco: an ecofriendly hot air balloon, a true revelation for balloon aeronautics. The new technology consumes 70 % less energy and allows the balloon to stay in the air for up to 10 hours — three times the traditional flight time. Here, Alain shares the history of the club and his passion for aeronautics in this exclusive interview for HelloMonaco.
HelloMonaco: How did you come up with the idea of creating «Les Aéronautes de Monaco» and why did you choose Monaco?
Alain Cruteanschii: I started with aeronautics back in the 1990s in the Loire castle area. When I moved to Monaco twenty years ago, I found that there was no such club here. That’s when I decided to become a «pioneer» in the Principality. I was a pilot then and doing skydiving. Hence my passion for balloons which are very difficult to manage. For me, aeronautics is not a sport, it’s an art — the art of understanding nature. We only fly in perfect weather conditions, and each time we have to wait and be patient — it is up to the weather if the balloon is to fly or not.
HM: What makes the Monaco club special?
AC: «Les Aéronautes de Monaco» is a small club that I founded in 2000. Eight years later, SBM became our sponsor. We are now joined with Jeeper champagne producer who our ecofriendly balloon is named after. This partnership is very logical since our goal is to reduce the negative impact on the environment. Jeeper is following the same philosophy.
HM: Does this sport have any risks and limitations?
AC: Just like with airplanes, we must take into account air traffic regulations. The balloon is subject to the same «standards» as airplanes. Jeeper can reach a height of 10,000 metres, where temperatures are –50 °C. That’s when we must wear special frost-resistant suits and oxygen masks.
HM: Can children do aeronautics? If so, what is an acceptable starting age?
AC: You need to be at least 17 years old in order to start hot air ballooning. A preparatory course takes about a year and costs a minimum of €4,000. Our instructor, Frederic, is doing the training sessions around Serre-Ponçon lake.
HM: What was the most exciting journey?
AC: I enjoy every flight, they are all exciting in their own way.
HM: And the most dangerous one?
AC: We do not make dangerous journeys. If there is a minimum risk, we stay on the ground. Hot-air ballooning is one of the safest ways to travel. If you want to take a balloon ride with me in Italy, the most dangerous part of the journey will be getting there by car.
HM: Tell us about the most curious moment.
AC: That’s when I was flying among the cirrus clouds and found myself surrounded by a billion diamonds. (Note: cirrus clouds often cause optical illusions, like ice crystals, changing colour and shape).
HM: Going back to the Jeeper, how is it different from a traditional balloon?
AC: The principle is very simple. Your house is likely to have double-glazed windows with a minimal air space between them. Same thing here: the balloon has some space between its inner and outer shells. This air ensures thermal insulation. Thanks to this technology, we are saving up on gas. If a standard propane consumption is 60 L/H, the Jeeper balloon only uses 18. We thus save up to 70 % of energy. Moreover, the weight of our cabin is only 50 kg, while the standard weight can reach 150 kg. This also helps in saving gas. The design of our innovative balloon was developed in Switzerland, and Jeeper itself is produced in Spain. The implementation of this project took us 10 years.
HM: What is aeronautics for you, is it more of a sport or an environmental project?
AC: It’s a combination of the two. I do understand that children are our future. I am willing to believe that they will continue my business being friendly to the planet. This question worries me since, as a pilot, over the past years I have witnessed climate change. Aeronauts have a particular sensibility to it since we spend a lot of time in the air. Not only do we see the air pollution over the cities, we can actually smell the smog with our nostrils.
How can one become a member of the Monaco Aeronautics Club?
In order to become part of our club, you must have done several flights with us. Moreover, two current members send a request for a new person to be accepted in the team. Then our office considers the applicant. The entrance fee is €5,000 and the annual membership fee is €500. You also need to compete with the club and help the team. We do not want to see «phantom members»! You also need to pass a specialized medical examination including an electrocardiogram. You need to be trained at our club in order to acquire the necessary psychological and physical skills. Then you do a short test-flight, and there may be a need for several parachute jumps. The whole procedure for obtaining such a permit may take up to 6 months.