Arthur Léopold-Léger: decarbonizing aviation, between sky and see
Arthur Léopold-Léger, a highly experienced navigator and pilot, founded Elixir Aircraft in 2015. His goal Advancing aviation by building aircraft from composite materials. Multiple flying clubs and players in the aeronautical industry have already been won over. The portrait of a passionate adventurer, entrepreneur and innovator.
Love of the sea and the air is part of the Léopold-Léger family’s heritage. Arthur was born into a world of aviation and boating, with both his father and grandfather already passionate about them. A nature and adventure enthusiast, he was educated in boat building, qualified as an aircraft pilot at the age of 16 and took part in the Young Pilots' Air Tour, organised each year by the FFA. When his father, who worked for an aircraft manufacturer, had a flying accident, he immediately cut short his training as an aeronautical engineer at Kingston University in London. "I stayed with him to help him carry on with his projects. At the same time, I started building a racing boat.”
Being inspired by boating to optimize aviation
One solo transatlantic race further down the line - yes, he likes to take on challenges - and Arthur Léopold-Léger has a lot to remember. "Because I’m in constant awe of nature, I found great peace of mind during this crossing. Admiring the ocean life and contemplating the reflection of the sky on the sea is a magical experience. It’s my own private movie”. In 2015, he incorporated Elixir Aircraft, and was soon joined by two employees. "Since childhood, I’ve been working to optimise the boats I build. So I said to myself, why not adapt this approach to aviation?" Constantly in touch with innovation and technology, he began putting the best of nautical technology to work and came up with a 4th generation aircraft. "I analysed aircraft performance from the dawn of aviation and started looking for a response to the issues facing light aircraft today.”
Composite fibres: one way of decarbonising light aviation
Reducing the environmental footprint is a key issue for the aeronautics industry. With its reduced weight and 70% less CO2 consumption than conventional light aircraft, the Elixir is a game-changer. Its secret? A carbon fibre composite, using OneShot technology, tested on his boats. By drastically reducing the number of parts used, it delivers a simplified and ultra-light wing structure, for instance. The end result is the same strength but fewer emissions. "OneShot technology has been used on boats for the past 20 years. Applying this technology to aviation has been a true challenge”. A bit of a crazy gamble, but it paid off. So much so that today, in addition to flying clubs, major manufacturers are interested in his project. A research programme has even been set up for a joint project to improve the use of the composite. Last June, TotalEnergies granted a €100,000 loan to Elixir Aircraft to support the ecological and energy transition by helping it to ramp up.
A bright future for Elixir
With orders for the Elixir in full swing (the booklet is complete until the 50th serial number), the pilot can now boast about developing his production well. This is a source of pride for Arthur-Léopold Léger, especially since it will be produced entirely in-house. "We had chosen to farm out some operations, but today we’re in a position to internalise the entire production process.” This turn of events opens up promising prospects for the entrepreneur, who’s also eager to skipper his family boat again. "My wife and I took our daughter on her first cruise on a boat that we took two years to renovate. It was an outstanding trip! Out boat is now waiting for us in the West Indies for further island adventures". As for flying, Arthur, who has already clocked up 1,000 hours of flight time, would like to see himself cruising over Norway and its fjords, or Romania, his favourite routes. Whether he dons his entrepreneur, lone wanderer or family man cap, the journey never stops for him.
The Elixir: one of the answers to tomorrow’s aviation challenges
What are the major challenges facing the light aviation industry?
Today’s fleet is in need of renewal, as it faces three challenges: performance - technology, economics and environment - safety and maintenance. Decarbonisation is one of the sector’s biggest challenges today. On the safety side, the aim is to reduce the risk of accidents. Most accidents are due to loss of control of the aircraft when it’s close to the ground. Because of the complexity of aircraft parts, maintenance costs can often be very high.
How does Elixir respond to these challenges?
Weighing in at just 630 kg (compared to 760 kg for a Cessna 152 for instance), the Elixir consumes half as much fuel and emits 70% less CO2. It is also the first aircraft to be certified for spin resistance. Plus, maintenance operations are less complex, shorter and less costly: 600,000 euros over a ten-year period compared to 1.2 million euros for the same Cessna 152.
How are flying clubs reacting to the Elixir?
Most of them are already seeing the benefits! The adventure will continue, with the emphasis placed on continuous improvement. In addition to Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) for JET A-1 aircraft and the electrification of the fleet, including TotalEnergies’s fleet, we are contributing, on our own scale to the evolution of aviation towards a more responsible industry. And that’s an exciting prospect!