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CNBC Interviews Bertrand Piccard As Solar Impulse Plane Begins Global Flight

WHEN: CNBC Conversation, 6 March at 23:00 CET.

Following are highlights of the unofficial transcript of a CNBC Conversation interview by Geoff Cutmore with Bertrand Piccard.

A link to an embeddable video clip of the interview on can be found here:

All references must be sourced to CNBC

Geoff Cutmore (GC): Bertrand thank you for joining us for this CNBC Conversation. Let's take our viewers back to the beginning, 13 years ago what was it that inspired you to pursue this project?

Bertrand Piccard (BP): Well I made the first flight around the world in a balloon that was in 1999 for the 20 days of the flight. I had butterflies in my stomach being afraid of being short of fuel, short of propane gas before the success, every day of the flight, and when I landed together with Brian Jones there was 40kg of liquid propane out of the 3.7 tonnes we had for the start. At this moment, I really understood what it means to be dependent on fossil energy, and I made the promise that the next time I would fly around the world it would be with no fuel at all, to be able to be free to fly forever, and actually this is how Solar Impulse was born, the idea really is to fly day and night with no fuel with an unlimited perpetual endurance.

GC: But, as I understand it, that idea came from the stress associated with the balloon flight that you made when you were running out of fuel and you barely managed to finish the round the world mission.

BP: Exactly and I did not want to be dependent on fuel anymore for the rest of my life. So of course there is Solar Impulse as a dream but you know in our world today if we want a better quality of life, if we want to create jobs to make profit for the industry to sustain growth for our world, we need new clean technologies because this is what the world needs. It's not only for the environment, it's also for human kind, for quality of life, and this is really the message we have with Solar Impulse,

GC: But critics might look at this plane and they might say well what is the real innovation here, I mean effectively you've built a one off aircraft with an enormous wingspan, an array of solar cells, this technology is all well understood and can be applied today but it's never going to get a 747 off the ground full of luggage and people, so what really are you demonstrating here?

BP: We are demonstrating that we can achieve impossible things with renewable energies and clean technologies and although the people know that these technologies exist in the world they don't use them, they don't use they, we continuously go on polluting the environment, and continuously bringing on the market all polluting technologies that is a big handicap for the growth of the industry. So what we want to do is attract the awareness of the people, maybe if everything goes well even to create enthusiasm for these types of technologies, and to encourage the government to also bring more of these technologies in the market. We need more political courage, and how do you stimulate political courage for ambitious energy policy? You do it by having enough people in the population who cheer up when the government takes action for it, and if you create millions of people who really understand that these technologies are the future, the governments will go for them, otherwise not, otherwise they will wait, they will be afraid, they will say do we have enough popular support, we are here to bring popular support.

GC: You're an adventurer, you come from a family of adventurers again some might look at this project and say this was one man's ego but it's a folly, the companies that have got involved and spend to the tune of $160 million to get your plane of the ground are doing it because it's a kind of green wash for them they can feel good just by being associated with you, but again this is not really going to change environmental practices.

BP: A lot of critics are 100 years too late; they should have gone to the Wright Brother and told them your airplane is made out of wood and cloth. It has no future, it will never transport passengers on oceans, and they will never fly high with passengers. Well we see what happened, pioneering spirit at first, opening the door, flying where nobody thought we could fly, flying higher, longer, with passengers, and 66 years after the Wright Brothers there were two men on the moon, in terms of the partners because that was a part of your question. The partners we have don't come from the world of aviation, why? Because it's made out of companies, chemical, watchers, elevators, industries who are really interested to bring clean technologies that the world needs. We have been there test bench for that. We have tested new technologies for them, and we have stimulated innovation process inside their company. It's the marketing money of these companies who have stimulated technological development, technological applications, technological demonstration so it's a win, win at the end.

GC: Clearly from the way you've described it, there have been technological breakthroughs as well as marketing benefits… How difficult though was it in the early days to get people to buy in into the vision that you wanted, I mean you must have been chased out of a number of offices, people saying this guys a bit crackpot.

BP: All the partners who came on board come from a meeting, either I was making a speech at their company or private meeting and there was a (*clicks fingers*) moment where wow, we share the same spirit, we share the same values, and then it was easy, but you cannot imagine how many companies have no leadership, no visions, some of them said we have never sponsored airplanes I say, yay you are not sponsoring an airplane, you are sponsoring a project that is showing to the world how you can change the energy policy of the world. How you can change the type of technologies in the world, creating millions and millions of people who understand and support it. And if they are too narrow minded they will never understand it, so the partners we have on board yes they brought a lot of money but they have the spirit for this so there is no green washing and we would never had accepted any green washing, it's always sincere.

GC: It's interesting because what you say seems to suggest that there is a real lack of imagination among the C suite in corporate Europe that perhaps not enough people are thinking forward and thinking about innovation?

BP: You are absolutely right, and if there were more people interested with innovation, people open minded, the world would be in a much better shape. Today we still use electrical light bulbs invented 130 years ago who make 5% of light and 95% of losses through heat, and we still use that instead of switching to LED.

GC: But governments could change this overnight, if you had some bold steps taken by the US administration or other governments around the world, we could change the regulations as they relate to technologies that are polluting, but that doesn't seem the political will or bravery to do that

BP: There is a big handicap in politics, you have the left and the right wing and the environment is a hostage between the two, if one wants to do something the other one wants to fight because they might lose some electors. In most of the countries it's like this, this is why you need to change this green ecological mind set which is actually not positive, the green parties have said you have to reduce mobility, reduce comfort, reduce lifestyle, reduce growth to protect the environment. Of course nobody wants that, so you have the left people supporting this, you have the right saying no and it's normal, so let's get out of that problem and show that clean technology now is a major step for progress. For, not only innovation but for growth, the world needs cleaner products just for the quality of air, for the quality of water, to protect natural resources because they save money, they earn money, they make profit, so today thanks to the clean technologies there is no reason for any political party to fight against it, and this is really important to understand the right as the left can support it, and when the population will understand it, it will be a huge, huge milestone, and this is what we try to encourage with our airplane. I am so happy that in our discussion, in this interview we speak about this and not just about the speed of the airplane or the altitude because this is not important what is important for the people to understand is that each one in his life can be an adventure, can be a pioneer, if he takes every moment to say how can I do better, which belief can I leave in the past, which other way of thinking can I try this is pioneering and this makes the world much better.

GC: Do you worry about your personal safety?

BP: Yes, this is why I trained, I know how to jump with a parachute, even with eye folds, arriving in the water, getting rid of the parachute, inflating the life raft, climbing in the life raft, take the emergency equipment, yes we have to train we are not daredevils, we are explorers which is very, very different.

GC: How high would you say the risk is of something going wrong, I understand the aircraft is very susceptible to wind currents

BP: Yes, there are quite a lot of risks that something can go differently to what we expected; now we have a lot of technical redundancy, we have a lot of training as pilots, we have a very good team who can also by telemetry and sat phone support us and give us some advices. So hopefully, we'll be able to get to a success but we never know, but it's true when you think about this type of issues you have to ask to yourself also, how important it is for your life and I was thinking when I will be old, if I say or if I think there were so many opportunities I didn't take because I was afraid of failing I would have really bad days in the future. But if I say okay, I took all the opportunities that I could stay, some of them succeeded, some of them failed, then I will be happy.

GC: Given that you know at times you're going to be in the cockpit, a very small cockpit for up to five or six days, how do you deal with personal hygiene issues.

BP: We have toilets on board, we have food, we have water, we can lean back in order to rest, I'm using self-hypnosis techniques, my colleague Andre is using yoga techniques, but we fly on after the other, there is only 1 seat in the plane, so it's clear we have to handle the flight for 5, 6 days maybe in a row when we cross the Pacific or when we cross the Atlantic.

GC: But given that there's no autopilot, how then do you regulate sleep and awake-ness so that you remain alert throughout the five or six days.

BP: You have the stabiliser for the wing, so you press on a button and the wing stays, hopefully, level and during that time you have twenty minutes to be able to rest…

GC: Twenty minutes…

BP: So you can do some sleeping, if you have the time of self-hypnosis, know its important self-hypnosis for me also is a very important tool because in the normal world how do we live, we live outside of ourselves, I see you, I hear you, I hear the noise, I hear, I feel the chair against my body, I'm outside, my awareness is outside of myself. With self-hypnosis you do the opposite you bring the awareness inside, you bring like your, look inside of yourself, and then you can observe, do I have some tensions, do I have some stress, do I have bad emotions and then I can start to, to act on it, then with the breathing I can dilute all the bad stress and be completely relaxed and then I can use more concentration, more resources, more focus, maybe more courage also, more strength in order to do what I have to do.

GC: Could you demonstrate for us, just in this moment how you achieve that hypnotic state?

BP: Yes, outside world, on me I would focus now on the middle of my thumb, when my look is completely focused here. I can just roll the eyes backward and… breathe out. Now I'm just inside of myself I can talk but I'm concentrating on what happens inside. On my breathing, on my confidence, on my focus, maybe I can even disassociate myself completely from the outside world, or I can disassociate my body from my brain, so if it's disassociated I can open my eyes I can control the instrument but I can sleep, the body can sleep, then I go back inside and when it's time to wake up… I breathe in and get all the motion again. So that was a short demonstration but nevertheless I was in a short hypnotic state and something people can learn also to do for anything they need, also to visualise solutions for the future if you are afraid of a situation, exams for example, for kids it's fantastic I do that with my children, they visualise in advance how calm and confident they will be for the exams and when they arrive there they will be able to find this confidence and calm again even if the question of the exam is difficult.

GC: Still to come on the CNBC Conversation Bertrand explains his ultimate aim.

BP: My dream is not just to fly around the world, my dream is to bring millions and millions of voices who sign up on our website and say I want concrete actions for a clean future.

GC: For those who would look at this project and say great you're drawing attention at an important issue, you're an eccentric gentleman who has a background in aviation and exploration, so good for you, but what other commercial opportunities would really come out of this project? Maybe there are some other benefits that we haven't really discussed so far?

BP: There are a lot of benefits, one is the technologies individually, the special electrical motors we've developed 97% efficiency compared to a thermal engine which is 27% efficiency, incredible, the insulation forms, the new batteries the lightweight structures, the LED lamps, all these types of things can be used in our world for all the commercial applications. But now if you put all these together you can make high altitude telecommunication platforms that would be maybe 15 or 20 miles up in the sky it would stay there for months or years with GSM or Wi-Fi transmitters and it could replace satellites at a very cheap price for developing countries, and we are already in contact with some companies different countries in the world who are interested by our technologies because we have proven we can do it with a high payload, not a small model with 100 grams of payload, no we do it with 300 kilos of payload, and this a big advantage we have and our engineers already start now to prepare for after the world flights, everything that we can do in that field, I think it's very, very promising.

GC: Given that you've devoted 13 years of your life to this and in five months it could all be over, what comes next for Bertrand?

BP: If I knew it would be business plan and not an adventure, so honestly we have prepared a lot of different and we will decide after the flight how we are going to move on, because it will also depend on the success of the flight, if it's only understood as a world record in aviation maybe we will focus more on the aviation part but if it's really understood as this message of clean technologies for the world. But if it is really understood as this message of clean technologies for the development of the world then we will continue on that because my dream is not just to fly around the world, my dream is to bring millions and millions of voices who sign up on our website and say I want concrete actions for a clean future, and on Solar Impulse dot com they say yes I agree, and then we will bring millions of voices to show to the government you are encouraged to continue that in that way, we are not fighting against you we are encouraging you to do it and you have millions of people in your countries who support it, who support you if you do it, and we will know for every country how many votes came and we can come countries, we can compare regions, we can compare the involvement of people, and this can be a fantastic outcome of the flight around the world.

GC: And just as we wrap up our CNBC Conversation here, can I ask you just to leave our audience maybe with one inspirational thought, you're obviously a man who's been driven for over a decade to achieve an ambition that you've set your mind upon, maybe just leave something for our audience watching that they can take and use for themselves.

BP: Yes, I would advise everyone to live his life like a balloon pilot because when you are in a balloon you are pushed by the wind toward the unknown. But you can change your direction by finding better winds if you move up and down, if you change your altitude, and for this you have to drop balance, drop weight to climb and in life with the same metaphor we can be very, very successful. When we have dreams, vision and hope targets objectives and the winds of life all the events all the problems all the crisis don't allow us to reach them we have to change altitude in education, we have to change altitude socially, educationally, psychologically, philosophically, spiritually to catch other influences, other answers, other solutions that can reorient your life in a better way, but for this you need to drop the balance of your certitude, your belief, your dogmas, your convictions, your explanation marks, you need to throw that overboard so you are open to new directions and new altitudes, if people can life like this, they can very, very successful.

GC: Bertrand Piccard thank you so much for being part of this CNBC Conversation.

BP: It was a pleasure, thank you.