Bad weather and upset stomach forces Solar Impulse team to delay final flight to Abu Dhabi

Final flight of solar-powered jet back to Abu Dhabi put off as pilot falls sick and hot wind sweeps across Saudi desert.

Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg announce the delay of the final leg of Solar Impulse’s round-the-world tour at Cairo International Airport on Saturday. The plane was expected to take off at 2am UAE time on Sunday. Khaled Desouki / AFP
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ABU DHABI // Solar Impulse's final flight back to Abu Dhabi is on hold while the crew wait for a break in the weather to allow the plane to fly over the Saudi desert.

Ground teams at Cairo International Airport, where the sun-powered plane landed last week, were prepared for take-off in the early hours on Sunday. But the Solar Impulse team said the final wind reading was too high to take off safely.

Although the plane has been round the world through 16 different stops, the 48-hour Cairo to Abu Dhabi flight will prove to be one of the longer and more difficult legs.

“The main challenge for this flight is it is going to be very, very warm over the Saudi desert,” said Raymond Clerc, mission director of the project.

Even at night, temperatures in the cockpit are expected to hit 25-30°C with daytime temperatures expected to be even warmer.

Turbulence caused by the hot weather will require Bertrand Piccard, the co-founder and pilot to take manual control of the flight, depending less on auto-pilot and giving him less opportunities for rest.

Although being grounded is frustrating, it does give the Swiss national time to recover from a stomach bug which would have ruled him out of the flight back to the UAE.

Mr Piccard’s illness came to light on Saturday night when he tweeted: “I’m sick. Stomach upset. I prefer to postpone the take-off @solarimpulse. I cannot go flying for 48 hours in that shape. Sorry.”

Mr Clerc confirmed that Solar Impulse would only take off when the weather in Saudi Arabia was suitable and Mr Piccard was feeling better.

“Safety first, it’s not possible... and he has to go to the toilet every 10 minutes, this is not an option,” he said.

“Bertrand is not very healthy tonight, this is the main reason. But we have to look at the flight, a very, very challenging flight, 48 hours minimum. If you are healthy and the aircraft is fine, in normal conditions this is very, very difficult,” he said.

Co-pilot Andre Borschberg, who flew the plane across the Pacific over five days and has previously seen several of his take-offs delayed, said the decision to postpone was almost always prudent.

“Cancelling the flight to Abu Dhabi is not an easy decision but it’s a wise decision for safety reasons,” he tweeted on Saturday night.

The plane was expected to take off at 2am UAE time on Sunday and land later this week in Abu Dhabi, completing the first solar-powered round-the-world journey. Solar Impulse began its journey from the capital in March last year. The ground crew will determine the next available window for take-off.