Jean-Louis Etienne will be leaving France this evening to make his way to the Generali Arctic Observer expedition base camp in Spitsbergen (Arctic Polar Circle). The explorer gave a final press conference this morning from the flight control centre at Generali’s headquarters in Saint-Denis. He stressed that the stand-by period for the expedition will begin on 8th April, which means that from that date the balloon could take off as soon as the expedition’s router believes there is a favourable weather opportunity.

From 8th April, Jean-Louis Etienne and the Generali Arctic Observer expedition balloon will be waiting to get underway. Luc Trullemans, the weather router is already busy studying the weather charts indicating the winds above the North Pole and will give the signal 36 hours before the balloon takes off. Once in the air, the team will move to flight HQ to monitor and manage the expedition from land.

Four main goals.

The Generali Arctic Observer expedition will offer an opportunity to obtain vital information about the state of the atmosphere above the Arctic pack ice. Jean-Louis Etienne reminded everyone of the main goals of the expedition: “This crossing of the North Pole by balloon will be a first and will enable me to continually carry out four measures all the time in the atmosphere. Firstly measuring the CO2 in the atmosphere, as today it is a scientific certainty that the build up of carbon dioxide has a major influence on the greenhouse effect and global warming. I’ll also be carrying out measurements concerning the earth’s magnetic field and measuring the particles in suspension in the ozone layer.”


Control centre on alert around the clock.

All of the expedition team got together this morning alongside Jean-Louis Etienne and Claude Tendil, President of Generali France, to inaugurate the flight control centre, which is the real nerve centre of the expedition based at Generali’s offices in Saint-Denis. It is at this base that Christophe Houver, flight coordinator and Luc Trullemans the weather router will be working. Aided by two other people, they will be managing the flight from land and will be in permanent contact with Jean-Louis Etienne.

What they said.

(Extracts from the press conference)

Christophe Houver, flight coordinator: “We’re going to be Jean-Louis’s nanny during the flight. We’ll be there to help him and make it easier for him to deal with daily tasks, but also to ensure the smooth running of the flight and the right use of fuel on board. We’ll be making sure he sleeps well, eats well and checking his physical and mental well-being. Our role will be to make sure that all the information passes through our control centre and that the balloon has all the same information that we have on land. We’ll be setting up a watch system to be alert around the clock and to be there all the time to answer Jean-Louis, when he calls.”

Luc Trullemans, weather expert and expedition router: “My role will be to find the right wind for Jean-Louis to go in the right direction.  After taking off, the balloon will have to rise to 1500 m to go over the Spitsbergen mountains.  Then, during the flight the balloon will be moving at around an altitude of 500m, but he won’t go above 5000 m to avoid oxygen starvation. I’ll be getting weather updates every six hours and around ten different simulations at various altitudes, which should enable me to find the right routing for the balloon.”

Claude Tendil, President of Generali France: “These subjects concerning the weather concern us as insurers, especially at times like the Xynthia storm after Klaus last year.  This expedition symbolises the role we have of looking ahead. Both aspects of the expedition (scientific and human) interested us immediately. Firstly the scientific aspect, as understanding the climate elements should allow us to do our job better as insurers. Then, Jean-Louis Etienne’s personality and his commitment led us to offer support. In a service company the values of commitment and responsibility of the teams make all the difference.”


Live radio session with Race HQ.

Once the expedition gets underway a live radio session with Jean-Louis Etienne will be organised each day at 11h30 from Flight HQ in Saint-Denis. Journalists, who so wish can take part in this daily link-up and ask Jean-Louis Etienne any questions they may have. These radio sessions will also be recorded and available online during the afternoon on the expedition website. For radio and TV stations, the audio recordings can be requested from Press HQ.