Thomas Pesquet flies to the Central African Republic with the Aviation sans frontières association

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The Sibut airstrip in the Central African Republic during the delivery of medicines by the NGO Aviations sans frontières in November 2015.

Under rainy skies, the Cessna took off from Le Bourget airport on Wednesday, April 13 at 1:30 p.m., as scheduled in its flight plan. Head south. After an afternoon stopover in Palma de Mallorca (Spain), it should fly over the African coast the next day and land at the end of the week in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. On board were two mechanics and three French pilots, one of whom has been in space for almost 400 days: Thomas Pesquet.

“I am impatient to fly over the Sahara and make stops in African territory, entrust to World the astronaut. On the space station I looked at Africa for a long time, I was impressed by its size. The projection of a sphere on a map that forces certain parts to be reduced, the continent is actually larger than we think. I was also surprised by the diversity of the landscapes, even in the desert… »

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His flight this time is part of a delivery trip for the Aviation sans frontières association. This was created by three pilots during the Biafra War (from 1967 to 1970). It now has 800 volunteers and provides logistical support to more than 120 NGOs and international organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP), Handicap International, Action Against Hunger, French Red Cross, Cardiac Surgery Sponsorship, etc.

The association works in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in areas where only ground aviation provides access to populations to transport humanitarian aid or care for refugees and the sick.

“The main function of this aircraft will be to transport doctors or nurses to areas where only an aircraft can reach because the roads are inaccessible or too dangerous, explains Gérard Feldzer, president of Aviation sans frontières. Our association provides logistical support to NGOs in areas where l’HON. » The United Nations is today the main source of funding for the association, which also works with twenty partners (Air France, General Directorate of Civil Aviation, Michelin, Aéroports de Paris, etc.)

“Looking forward to putting the Air Force at the service of humanitarian aid”

Through its Wings of the Future project, the Aviation sans frontières association is also active in France, in priority neighborhoods or in rural areas. In 2020, it allowed 16 people, between the ages of 15 and 29, to fly on board a plane designed by students of Sup’Aéro Toulouse and acquire the first notions of piloting.

The Cessna Grand Caravan EX, which took off from Le Bourget, is considered an “airborne all-terrain vehicle”, capable of accommodating 12 passengers and carrying 1 ton of cargo. Thanks to its wide tires and reinforced landing gear, it can land on fairly short laterite runways. “These planes are very robust, says Vadim Feldzer, Administrator of Aviation Without Borders. They require a special qualification. »

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Thomas Pesquet, who started his career at Air France in 2006 and has 2,300 flight hours on the Airbus A320, had to undergo new training. “Your instructor told me that your progress had been meteoric, says Jean-Claude Cuisine-Etienne, who delivered the rating. The pilot analyzes and reacts very quickly, even in the event of engine failure. »

The UN requires pilots to have 50 flight hours before leaving on a mission. Thomas Pesquet, despite six extravehicular departures during his two stays on the international space station, will not be able to make his first flights in the Central African jungle at the end of this first installment. “He will work his hours and come later to give us a hand, Gerard Feldzer says. We sense that you want to be useful and invest in the field. »

“I am looking forward to embarking on an adventure and putting the Air Force at the service of humanitarian aid”, concluded Thomas Pesquet who received as a last tribute a water greetinga passage of his plane under the jets of water from the airport firefighters, moments before takeoff.

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