Pipistrel Cancels Channel Flight After Siemens Pulls Support

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(Updated)

Pipistrel cancelled plans to symbolically fly its Alpha Electro electric-powered training aircraft over the English Channel on Tuesday after Siemens, the supplier of the motor, issued a "demand not to fly over the water with their motor," said Pipistrel CEO Ivo Boscarol in a statement (PDF). Boscarol said his company's flight has been in the works since last October, with the company finally receiving approval from French authorities last week. Takeoff was planned for July 7 at 10 a.m. and shortly before that Siemens demanded the flight be stopped and seemed to suggest that using its motor to fly over water would violate its development contract with Pipistrel.

In a statement to AVweb (PDF), Siemens spokesman Florian Martini said Pipistrel didn't tell Siemens it was planning the flight. Martini cites Siemens' "safety demands" in the statement but did not directly address the question of why it ordered Pipistrel to not use its motor. The Slovenian company has developed the aircraft with the intent to certify it with the Siemens motor and is in production.

Boscarol described the last-minute decision by Siemens "bizarre and incomprehensible." He did, however, leave broad hints that he speculates the decision has something to do with Airbus' plan to fly its E-fan electric airplane over the Channel on Friday, which would have made it the second electric airplane to make the crossing. Siemens is listed as a sponsor of that splashy event, which has been widely promoted by Airbus and the first such crossing of the Channel. 

Siemens does not supply the motors for the E-fan but it does supply a lot of electrical components to Airbus. Boscarol hinted that he believed there was some connection there. "Unfortunately it was once again the interest of the capital that prevailed, and we lost the competition on the account of fair play -- we could of course still perform the flight in the next three days, but we respect Siemens and their demand not to fly over the water with their motor," he said. He also congratulated Airbus in advance for the scheduled Friday flight.

Airbus spokeswoman Christine Manderscheid didn't directly address the question of whether it pressured Siemens to pull its support for the Pipistrel flight but instead chided Pipistrel for a perceived lack of preparation for the flight, the approval of the French authorities notwithstanding (PDF). She said that while Airbus didn't know the specifics of Pipistrel's flight, she was unaware of any other company that had taken the precautions Airbus is undertaking for its flight on Friday, including chase aircraft, air traffic control coordination and rescue boats. "There is no comparable status known for any other player. We are not aware of the test status and the agreements between Siemens and Pipistrel. But no serious player in aviation compromises on safety,” Airbus tweeted on Tuesday.

AVweb's Paul Bertorelli recently flew the Alpha Electro and prepared this video report.