Solar Plane Set to Soar Abroad in May

A solar-powered plane is slated to take its first international flight next month in a move that offers an unprecedented step toward “green” flying.

Switzerland’s Solar Impulse Team said the airplane, which is the first designed to fly day and night without requiring fuel or producing carbon emissions, will soar to Brussels around May 2.

The project offers the aviation industry a new look at dealing with the rising cost of oil, which has continued to creep higher amid unrest in the Middle East, weighing on some airline profits. American Airlines (NYSE:AMR), for example, said last week that higher fuel prices crippled its profit, sending its first-quarter income down $436 million.

“This airplane, the first to function without fossil fuel and without emitting CO2, symbolizes magnificently the great efforts the aeronautical industry is making to develop new technologies for energy saving and increased use of renewable energies,” said Brussels Airport CEO Arnaud Feist.

Brussels Airport was chosen because of its symbolism as the capital of the European Union, though the plane’s designers said the destination poses technical challenges.

Flight Director Raymond Clerc said his team has been preparing for the flight for months, training to fully understand the complexities of the international air traffic network and the taxiways of Brussels Airport, which is the 14th biggest airport in Europe.

Because the project is considered “experimental,” special authorizations were required, as were lengthy procedures from the civil aviation authorities of each country the plane flies through.

The single-seat prototype has the wingspan of a Boeing (NYSE:BA) 777 jet. It took its maiden flight in Switzerland in 2009 and has taken many other test flights, particularly as the crew readies itself for the international voyage.

After its historic journey, the plane will appear at the 49th International Paris Air Show for six days starting June 20.