Erik Lindbergh predicts electric business jet future
Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles, discusses electric aircraft, his involvement with Air Charter Service and what he remembers of his grandfather.
A question Corporate Jet Investor often asks aviation professionals is how they became involved with the industry. Some say they developed a childhood passion, while others say they fell into it by chance. For Erik Lindbergh, there was no escaping it.
The Lindbergh family name is as much a part of American aviation as Cessna, Earhart or Hughes. Erik Lindbergh proved this in May 2002 when he flew a single-engine aircraft from New York to Paris 75 years after his grandfather Charles Lindbergh had blazed the very same trail across the Atlantic.
“My passion is for flying small aircraft,” says the younger Lindbergh, having made his own name as a modern-day aviator, public speaker and artist. “I love being able to look down; there is a lot of smile factor.”
A casual relationship with business aviation
Lindbergh describes his relationship with business aviation as “a little more casual” than his passion for smaller aircraft. He mentions an enjoyable flight he undertook on an Embraer Legacy flying from Farnborough Airport to Le Bourget, but says he enjoys longer flights even better. “The comfort makes the flight much, much more relaxing,” he says. “It is so much more stress-free.”
As a brand ambassador for Air Charter Service (after a chance meeting that led from Lindbergh exhibiting some sculptures in Miami), he now faces an altogether different challenge: reviving business aviation at a time when deliveries, orders and flight hours have been consistently down for the last four or five years.
This time, Lindbergh’s vehicle is not a single-engine aircraft but a product known as the Lindbergh Card. “The difference between the Lindbergh Card and other jet cards is that anyone looking to charter an aircraft can use the Lindbergh Card,” he says.
Where as companies like NetJets and VistaJet have built their success on promising familiarity and offering aircraft that form part of a larger fleet, the idea behind the Lindbergh Card is that it allows owners to “charter any available aircraft anywhere in the world with simply an email to confirm the booking.”
Lindbergh has also worked with Dassault in the past, a company that owes a great deal to his grandfather, after he famously told Pan Am in 1963 that he had “found the bird” the airline had been looking for and persuaded them to order 50 Mystère 20 business jets.
Inheriting an environmental conscience
Although Charles Lindbergh was a controversial figure with views that may have bordered on the extreme, Lindbergh says he thought his grandfather, who died when he was nine-years-old, was “neat.”
“I liked him,” he says without hesitation. “He liked kids. I have met a lot of adults who didn’t like him; he was one of those people who knew everything.”
Something else which Lindbergh has inherited from his grandfather is a keen environmental conscience. Whereas Charles campaigned for the protection of endangered species, Erik talks animatedly about the possibilities of electric-powered flight, since he first piloted an electric aircraft in July 2013.
“Many of aviation’s problems can be solved by electric propulsion,” he says confidently. “Electric aircraft are so quiet, simple and cheaper to operate as well. I was flying 500 feet above the ground and I could actually hear someone slam their car door.”
Lindbergh believes we are still some way off from seeing business aviation adopt electric aircraft and while clearly not as excited by aviation biofuels, he recognises that “they are the future for jet propulsion at this time.”
“I think the barnstorming era of aviation in the 1920s is equal to now,” he says. “Biofuels represent the lowest hanging fruit in terms of improving the environmental impact of business jets. We just need to make production cost-effective and make sure it doesn’t take too much out of the food supply.”
Prizes and philanthropy
Lindbergh is also a board member for the X Prize Foundation, a non-profit organisation that creates competitions designed to benefit mankind through technological development and awards the winners with lucrative prizes.
“The next big prize could be $10 million for whoever can fly non-stop from New York to Paris in a four-seat electric aircraft,” says Lindbergh, referencing his grandfather’s famous journey. “We have been looking at it for quite some time, but we have not been able to find the $10 million.”
Asked whether he feels he is undoing his philanthropy by attaching himself to an industry with such a significant – and rapidly expanding – carbon footprint, Lindbergh says: “Until there is another solution, business aviation is here to stay.”
“If somebody does invent a new form of transport, whether that’s teleportation or super-fast blimps, I’m sure you will see ACS offering that with the Lindbergh Card,” he adds, ending the sentence with a chuckle.
“People understand that the environment is very important and my grandparents understood that earlier than most, because they had the chance to fly over the world and see the changes happening,” says Lindbergh. “We have to focus on what will allow us to continue to utilise and grow technology without harming the environment and ultimately, our quality of life.”
While poignant, Lindbergh’s quote is eerily similar to something his grandfather said in the year before he passed away; “All the achievements of mankind have value only to the extent that they preserve and improve the quality of life.”