Monaco and its eco-message: a hot-air balloon as a passepartout to access the sky
Interview with Alain Cruteanschii, President of Club des Aéronautes de Monaco
Alain Cruteanschii has been committed to air sports for most of his life. He is a genuine sportsman, inspired by human values, trying to best help others on a supportive and philanthropic basis. His projects are revolutionizing the aerial perspective of the Principality.
But there is much more to explore than that. Alain Cruteanschii, founder and president of the Club des Aéronautes de Monaco (Monaco Ballooning Team), unveiled exclusively to HelloMonaco some interesting facts about present and future initiatives aimed at raising Monaco’s profile through a means of transport that has been fascinating humankind for a few centuries. Since its invention in 1783 by Montgolfier brothers, the hot-air balloon has been a symbol of human genius in harmony with the rhythm of nature. In modern times, that avant-garde eco-message is always timely and Alain Cruteanschii was able to grasp the most significant nuances of it to make the Principality a pioneering land for the latest innovation of eco-friendly technology. An unprecedented challenge for Monaco followed by a fan of exception, the Sovereign Prince. Let us plunge in the deepest open-air world where sense of adventure and knowledge of physics are the Passepartout to access the skies.
HelloMonaco: Mr. Cruteanschii, can you tell us about the origins of the Club?
Alain Cruteanschii: It all started when my wife and I moved to Monaco at the end of the 1990’s. So, I asked myself what I could bring to the Principality. I am a skydiver and, speaking with some friends from the Monaco Parachute Team, I started conceiving the idea of a new sports club centred on hot-air balloons. The Monaco Ballooning Team was then created in 2000. From the very beginning, our mission was to make a dream come true: a red-and-white balloon to celebrate Monaco. Sometime after (in 2008) the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM) trusted us and funded our first ride. That made us bring Monaco to the world. Therefore, we moved towards innovation thanks to Jeeper Champagne, putting into practice the new technology able to save between 50 % and 60 % of energy consumption, designed by Pierrick Duvoisin, talented engineer and hot-air balloon pilot from Switzerland. Over time, H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco has been interested in our project and other relevant partnerships came forward. And now we are preparing a new challenge that is going to create a sensation!
HelloMonaco: What makes the ecologic ‘montgolfière’ unique?
AC: We are assembling and testing a new-generation hot-air balloon which includes all technical improvements made over the last ten years. We will be launching it next summer (between June and July). The eco-tech allows us to reduce the fuel consumption due to several factors that act simultaneously. First of all, the double-layer balloon casing lets us improve the overall energy performance by generating an additional air chamber between the outer and the inner layer to reduce the heat loss. In other words, it follows the same principle as a double-glazed window. We then focused on the overall weight making all components lighter. Moreover, the burner is newly designed by Paolo Bonanno, experienced Italian engineer, and fuelled mainly by bio propane resulting from organic waste thanks to the support of SAM Romano-Energy, a leading Monegasque supplier. The device is capable to use every drop of fuel for maximum yield. Our partner Ford Monaco provided us with an Explorer 4×4 hybrid vehicle which is very fuel efficient. We will also serve as a laboratory and use Ford vehicles powered by XTL diesel which reduces CO2 emissions by 90 %. We must not forget, in fact, that the balloon always implies a dedicated means of transport for both the flight and ground crew, equipped with all the necessary material. We estimate that the total impact on the environment is reduced by 50 % – 70 % and we are looking forward to achieving 90 % in a few years. We are also planning to calculate our carbon footprint for the whole project in the near future.
HelloMonaco: What knowledge do you need to pilot a hot-air balloon?
AC: The pilot’s preparation is fundamental to juggle through air currents as well as a detailed understanding of weather conditions. Apart from the take-off and the landing, the balloon is entirely dependent on the forces of nature. The ‘montgolfière’ always goes where the wind carries it. You can think metaphorically of a ‘millefeuille’ environment made of different air layers that have different intensities and speeds. Nowadays, advanced satellite equipment supports the flying crew whereas once only a compass did it and a piece of paper and a pencil were available. Moving to the present day, meteorologists are playing an essential role, especially for long and tough journeys, and we have the chance to count on two of the best experts worldwide, Luc Trullemans and Wim de Troyer. Then it is fundamental to involve every member of the crew in a tangible operational task which increases knowledge and reassures psychologically about the reliability of the balloon. The best way to learn is to answer your own questions.
HelloMonaco: I know that you are relying on a Catalan company with a great experience in balloon design, Ultramagic. How was the collaboration born?
AC: The company is considered as the only one to develop an ecologic balloon and Eng. Paolo Bonanno is now working for them. The production chain is not simple and each component is handmade by the producer. In the last ten years there have been significant improvements in many ways starting from the type of fabric. The aerial part of a balloon, in fact, is crucial and traditionally made of different tissues: Ultralast (top envelope), Ripstop Nylon (central part) and Nomex (lower part close to the burner). The longer their lifetime of use is, the more performing the balloon is.
The ‘eco-logic approach’ we are developing with Ultramagic is attracting more and more attention in the light of the recent energy crisis since the know-how achieved by our pool of engineers and technicians can be applied in other fields. And we aim at keeping it as an open source in view of an exchange of knowledge.
HelloMonaco: In late April 2018, your ecologic balloon already took off from the Palace Square in the presence of the Sovereign Prince, how was that?
AC: It was great! We made the first historic flight from the Principality of Monaco and the presence of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco at the kicking-off honoured us considerably. He has always been a big supporter of Monaco’s balloon since the beginning and we met Him several times.
We chose the right moment when the winds from the south were blowing towards Italy. We climbed in three hours to six thousand metres high, using oxygen masks. Favourable weather conditions allowed us to cross rather quickly the Maritime Alps and to land South of Turin soon after.
HelloMonaco: What about the new project of the eco-logic red-and-white balloon?
AC: Actually, the ‘Monaco Next Generation Project’, supported by Groupe Marzocco, is not a project anymore but an evolving reality. What we are working on is to launch an even ‘greener’ balloon that brings the national colours of the Principality. The new balloon is not meant to carry people but to convey a message: making possible what did not seem so. The conformation of the Monegasque territory, in fact, would not guarantee enough space to travel by hot-air balloon (note: a space equal to two football fields are usually required to take off and land). We succeeded to change the perspective. We are trying then to plan about five taking offs per year with two passengers each, mainly in the winter season since during summers it is not feasible to do it because of the weather.
We hope also to establish new partnerships with Monaco’s Tourism Board and the Educational service to organize workshops and training courses to bring new generations closer to the ‘montgolfière’. I wish I could see Monaco’s balloon-patent pilots in a few years.
HelloMonaco: Are you going to attend international balloon festivals?
AC: Yes, of course. Surely, we will be present at major festivals in January 2023. Notably, the Epiphany International Balloon festival held in Mondovì (Piedmont, Italy) every 6th January, and the International Hot-Air Balloon Festival at Château-d’Œx (Switzerland) where hundreds of balloons gather every year at the end of January. Furthermore, we would like to create an annual event: the Prince Albert II of Monaco Trophy in February – March 2023, a race from Monaco reserved only for ecological balloons. Finally, I would like also to make a combined tour of France and Italy, perhaps from next year. Who knows? I am sure we will be warmly welcomed in both countries.
HelloMonaco: What would you wish for the future?
AC: I would like to be appreciated and encouraged by all those who care about the Principality, both private citizens or public institutions, so that our ecologic balloon will become Monaco’s ambassador in international skies. Our main mission is to show that the Principality of Monaco evolves through concrete positive actions, even amusing ones, while testifying to the Sovereign Prince’s environmental commitment.
For any further detail, please visit: http://www.ballonmonaco.com/