Interview de M. Wachenheim par J.P. Sanfourche, editor in chief du bulletin Aerospace Europe du CEAS

Paru initialement dans le BULLETIN AEROSPACE EUROPE – avril 2021 (

Reproduit avec l’aimable autorisation du CEAS. Disponible uniquement en anglais.



Michel Wachenheim

Michel Wachenheim is a graduate of Ecole Polytechnique (France) and Ecole Nationale de l’Aviation Civile (ENAC, France).

He is a former Director General of Civil Aviation (France) and former Head of staff for the French Transport Minister (Dominique Bussereau).

He has represented France on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and he was senior Advisor to the Airbus CEO from 2014 to 2020 .

He took over as President of the Air and Space Academy (AAE) on 1 January 2021.

Jean-Pierre Sanfourche – Just a few weeks after you assumed presidency of the Air and Space Academy, a major international conference was organised remotely by AAE on 11 and 12 March, dealing with one of the highest priority subjects in civil aviation: “Air Transport in Crisis and the Climate Challenge – Towards New Paradigms”. But before discussing the main opinions, proposals and recommendations that emerged from this remarkable conference, I would first like to approach the question of the air transport sector’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Michel Wachenheim The recovery of the Air Transport sector will require a harmonization of processes and measures at global level. To this end, ICAO set up the Council Aviation Recovery Task force (CART) last year tasked with providing continuous guidance to Member
States to enable civil aviation to recover. Unfortunately, these recommendations were not really implemented. A harmonization of Covid measures within EU, on the basis of EASA recommendations, also appears difficult, since health policy remains mainly at State level. Likewise, last
November the European associations collectively representing the entire aviation sector came together at a ‘European Aviation Round Table’. They urged the EU and its Member States to implement an Urgent Call for Action comprising two pillars: 1) a European Aviation Relief Programme and 2) an EU Pact for Sustainable Aviation. Let’s hope that these propositions will be implemented.

The conference did not focus on this subject. However, the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic raises the question of the sector’s capacity to maintain the proper level of efforts to combat climate change. The time has come to resolutely engage at international level in the process of air transport transformation in accordance with environmental policy goals.

Our conference provided the opportunity to re-examine the different aspects of the subject, hear the presentations of top experts, clarify positions and finally outline a corpus of orientations.

J-P. S. – Until recently opinions diverged as regards the impact of civil aviation on climate warming: is there now a general consensus on the key scientific figures and on the urgency of the actions to be taken?

M. W. – Global warming is not open to questioning, it is now an established fact. All sectors of activity are concerned, including aviation. Among the information presented during the conference, I would like to bring your attention to the following:

  • Today, the CO2 emitted by aviation represents 2.4% of human CO2 emissions, growing to 3.5%if we consider indirect impacts;
  • Indirect impacts include nitrogen oxides (NOX), particles and contrails. However, regarding the impact of contrails, further studies are necessary and some fuel categories might reduce this impact;
  • Air transport must be profoundly transformed in order to play its part in combating climate change, while also needing to adapt to the resulting changing meteorological conditions.

J-P. S. – Energy transition is the top priority of the required programme to transform air transport, could you briefly indicate the main trends expressed during the conference?

M. W. – Experts confirmed that the situation is evolving very quickly with regard to drop-in synthetic kerosenes which have a neutral carbon footprint.

The possibilities are no longer restricted to “classic” biofuels, whose resources are limited, but now include Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), less “bio-based” and more “electric”, produced from hydrogen and carbon, from biomass, waste, etc., or even taken directly from the atmosphere. Pilot plants are appearing, at different stages of readiness depending on the process. Boeing, Rolls-Royce and German industrialists are all involved in this sector.

The way is thus open to decarbonisation efforts which push beyond the current bio focus, encouraging the certification of “drop-in” fuels and a fall in their prices with mass production. They would rapidly be mixed in with jetfuel according to local availability, to reach 100% by 2050. And what about hydrogen? This high energy, but very bulky gas could play a part in short-haul air transport, just as it has in ground transport, but there is still a long way to go before it can be used in compact form (liquid at minus 253 degrees Celsius) in radically new mediumto long-haul aircraft. Issues around production, transportation and refuelling at airports around the world would also have to be resolved. Even assuming that technical solutions are found, any reduction in CO2 accumulation would be very limited before 2050.

To sum up, a “defossilisation” solution can be technically implemented quickly and progressively, without waiting for fleet renewal. Such a large-scale project must involve oil companies, renewable energy producers and air transport. Once again, the aviation industry could play a pioneering role.

J-P. S. – Concerning commercial aspects, I assume that the notion of Environmental Taxes gave rise to differing opinions?

M. W. – The question of tax policy was discussed from the airline perspective. The viewpoints expressed by the different speakers converged around the conclusion that to add new taxes to CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) would be counterproductive. A consensus clearly emerged on the fact that instead of creating new taxes, which would have a deterrent effect on passengers, it would be much more efficient to massively invest in alternative fuel research and production, i.e. to establish regulatory financial support for the bio and synthetic alternative fuels (SAF) industry Aircraft manufacturers, Air Navigation Service Providers, airport and airlines must definitely work together within a “Systemic Aviation Cluster”..

J-P. S. – What about the geopolitical and societal aspects of the air transport transformation?

M. W. – While some talk of slowed, or even negative growth, economists and sociologists have contrasting views on the need for long-distance transport, where there is no substitute for air travel.

Why should it be reprehensible to use aircraft to satisfy this need and less reprehensible to use internet networks all day long, especially for entertainment, when their electricity consumption emits greenhouse gases at a rate 2 or 3 times higher than aviation proportionally?

It must also be recognised that global objectives may not be applied evenly across all sectors of activity; measures may be calibrated according to socio-economic needs and deadlines may evolve according to technical capacities and social acceptability.

J-P. S. – What is your general opinion about changes needed to education and training due to the air transport transformation?

M. W. – Air transport transformation will be a long process, requiring more and more innovation, and relying on highly disruptive technologies, this is the reason why climate change, the environment and the ecological transition will occupy a larger and larger part in aerospace training programmes in higher education centres.

For the 1000 connected students, the conference presented a very comprehensive scientific and societal overview of all issues related to carbon-free aviation. The quality and precision of the presentations meant that they were able to access a coherent set of consolidated information as well as confronting opinions that were sometimes less well-founded.

Based on the high-level presentations by specialists in climate studies, new technologies and air operations, they now have the elements they need to build roadmaps for each of the solutions discussed, particularly electricity, synfuels and hydrogen. The future engineerarchitects of the aeronautics and space sector are thus combining their knowledge of the environmental impact of aviation with an interest, from start to finish, in technological breakthrough solutions, from primary energy sources to the certification of completely new aircraft.

J-P. S. – Among your recommendations, you highlighted the absolute necessity for strong international governance: which kind of initiative should be taken?

M. W. – The international institution already exists: ICAO. However, ICAO is not equipped to address urgent decisions and policies. It will have to improve its decisionmaking processes and work more closely with aviation industries, not only within the framework of current actions but above all to prepare for the future.

I would like to take this opportunity to look back at the creation of ICAO.

On 7 December 1944, i.e. before the end of World War Two, 52 nations assembled in Chicago, Illinois (USA), to sign the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, a fundamental text which stated in its preamble: “The future development of international civil aviation can greatly help to create and preserve friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world, yet its abuses can become a threat to the general security. […] The undersigned governments having agreed on certain principles and arrangements in order that international civil may be developed in a safe and orderly manner and that international air transport services may be established on the basis of equality of opportunity and operated soundly and economically…” The Chicago Convention came into force two years later, with the creation of ICAO on 4 April 1947 .

If I look back at this Chicago Convention, it is because we consider it both vital and urgent to introduce, at the same level as Safety, a fundamental role for this organization in the fight against Climate Change. This would considerably ease decisions regarding long-term objectives. However, I also know that this is a political challenge. At the very least, and within a short-term timeline because decisions are needed urgently, an international conference (similar to Chicago) dedicated to climate change policy might be convened. The next ICAO Assembly will take place at Montreal in 2022. It is time to organize an event at the level of Heads of States, ahead of this event, in order to send a strong political message to the ICAO Assembly.


In order to monitor the evolving impact of aviation on climate change, the Air and Space Academy is suggesting the setting up of an air transport observatory to keep a tally of the systemic rate of progress towards climate objectives; its content and operation will have to be defined.
The neutrality of this observatory will be a crucial element and its scope should be global.

It is only through such a system that we will be able to effectively monitor the “aviation climate programme”.

J-P. S. – Perhaps to conclude, what are your main objectives for the Air and Space Academy for the next two years?

M. W. – First of all, I have to manage in the best possible manner all the actions undertaken by my predecessors which are currently under active preparation: Dossiers, Opinions, upcoming Conferences and Lectures as well as our quarterly Newsletters. Incidentally I would like to take this opportunity to thank my predecessors for the high value of the works they have conducted.

In particular I wish to congratulate all members of the team in charge of the programming and organisation of this remarkable Conference/webinar of 11 and 12 March. “Remarkable” is not an overstatement because it was followed by an audience of some 2,000 persons of which at least 1,000 aerospace students and young professionals. May I thank you, as Editor-in-Chief of the AEROSPACE EUROPE bulletin, for having distributed our Announcement document to all members of the Council of European Aerospace Societies (CEAS) and so contributed to this achievement.

Concerning publications, my very first priority is of course to report on this event in the form of an “Opinion” booklet to appear shortly, let’s say in next May/June.

With regard to training initiatives, the “Entretiens de Toulouse – Toulouse Encounters” to be held on 14-15 April is vitally important: as we discussed earlier it is obvious that due to the unprecedented challenges we are facing and thanks to the extraordinary explosion of new technologies, the future of aviation is in the hands of present students and young professionals.

This thought directly leads to my next priority: the rejuvenation of the Air and Space Academy. The rapidity of aviation evolution makes it imperative to take action aimed at electing younger and younger Members. This will be a long process, all the more reason to initiate it without delay.

Also regarding AAE membership, it is necessary to give a strong impulse to internationalisation. When it was created in 1983 by André Turcat, it was a national institution named “Académie Nationale de l’Air et de l’Espace (ANAE)”. A major change occurred in 2007, when the adjective “National” disappeared, the title becoming the present one “Académie de l’Air et de l’Espace – Air and Space Academy”. From this date non-French members were progressively elected as Fellows. The present ratio of non-French/French members is around 30%/70%, which is very insufficient and I am therefore determined to engage initiatives aimed at increasing this ratio. The ideal would be to move towards becoming a “European Air and Space Academy” within a medium timeline. This internationalisation is a sine qua non condition if we are to make a high level contribution in the international world of aerospace decision makers.

I would like to conclude our interview by saying that if today, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are experiencing a period of difficulty unprecedented since the end of World War 2, very soon the time of recovery will come and the aerospace players will embark on a fascinating era of limitless scientific and technological advances.

Interview de M. Wachenheim par J.P. Sanfourche, editor in chief du bulletin Aerospace Europe du CEAS

Paru initialement dans le BULLETIN AEROSPACE EUROPE – avril 2021 (

Reproduit avec l’aimable autorisation du CEAS. Disponible uniquement en anglais.