GENEVA (Reuters) - The co-founder of a project that saw a solar-powered aircraft complete the first fuel-free flight around the world this year expects electric passenger planes to operate in just under 10 years.
Bertrand Piccard, who along with fellow pilot Andre Borschberg founded Solar Impulse, also shrugged off concerns that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's appointment of a fossil fuel industry defender as his top environmental official could hamper global clean technology efforts.
Since completing their historic fuel-free flight in July, Piccard and Borschberg have been working on projects to show how the technologies used in their plane can be used in other applications.
Borschberg said they were especially interested in how the technology could be used to develop small electric planes with a flying time of about 1.5 hours. The two plan to announce their next project early next year, Borschberg said.
"In 9 years and 8 months, you'll have 50 people traveling short-haul on electric planes," Piccard, founder and chairman of Solar Impulse told an IATA airlines association briefing in Geneva.
"Why 9 years and eight months? Because since four months, I've been saying it will be '10 years'. It will happen," he added.
Piccard said that it didn't matter what people thought about climate change because clean technology was getting cheaper and would help to drive growth. He cited examples of insulation making homes cheaper to live in, of LED lights reducing lighting costs.
"Five years ago everything that was clean tech was more expensive - that is not the case today. If the aim is to be profitable and create jobs, then coal is out of business," he said.
(Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)