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Beyond Aero: French Sustainable Aviation Plans Take Flight

The startup recently staged the first test flights of its hydrogen-electric system for low-carbon airplanes. With aerospace a major piece of the French economy, the nation is counting on such aviation innovation to secure the sector's future.

Beyond Aero's Blériot prototype hydrogen-electric plane.
Beyond Aero's Blériot prototype hydrogen-electric plane.

On an airstrip nestled in the foothills of the Alps, France recently got a glimpse into its aviation future. The nation is making a big bet that it can lead a sustainability revolution for an industry at the heart of its national identity – and economy.

A modest, but critical step toward realizing that ambition was taken when Beyond Aero conducted the nation's first manned fully hydrogen-electric flights. That included 10 take-offs and 2 flights of an aircraft that had been retrofitted with an electric system powered by a combination of lithium and hydrogen batteries.

The small aircraft was a proof-of-concept, a demonstration that the hybrid system could power a private jet designed for business customers and clear early regulatory hurdles. Now Beyond Aero is preparing for the next step: Building an entire electric plane.

"This is a really good moment for us as founders," said Eloa Guillotin, co-founder and CEO of Beyond Aero. "I truly believe in us as a company. It's a big milestone. But for the industry, it's just the beginning."

Eloa Guillotin, co-founder and CEO of Beyond Aero
Eloa Guillotin, co-founder and CEO of Beyond Aero

The horizon for realizing such a dream remains a long one. But as France's industry grapples with its role in the growing impact of climate change, it needs such breakthroughs to succeed on a large scale to avoid the worst-case scenario: Pressure to curtail the sector.

"There are two ways of looking at things," President Macron said in a speech last summer at the Safran Aircraft Engines factory. "We could stop everything. Not a good idea! ... We have a chance and an opportunity in France... We can be a leader in decarbonization and we can succeed in substantially reducing emissions...The French must be the champions of the [low-emissions] aircraft."
President Macron visiting Safran. Photo courtesy of the Élysée.

Under The Hood

Beyond Aero is not counting on radical technical breakthroughs to develop its aircraft. Founded in 2020, the company uses exisiting technology to create a hybrid system of lithium- and hydrogen-based batteries to power a fully electric plane.

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