Will France’s ‘flying soldier’ make it across the Channel to England?

A French inventor aims to soar across the English Channel this week on a jet-powered "flyboard", despite authorities warning the stunt is a danger to shipping.

Will France's 'flying soldier' make it across the Channel to England?
Franky Zapata on his flyboard Photo: AFP

Former jet-skiing champion Franky Zapata has pledged to go ahead on Thursday on his device, which can reach speeds up to 190 km/h.

It will come 10 days days after the entrepreneur wowed crowds when he flew above the Champs-Elysees in Paris in front of President Emmanuel Macron for the annual July 14th military parade.


But authorities are divided over the daredevil venture, which will mark 110 years to the day since Frenchmen Louis Bleriot made the first aeroplane flight across the Channel.

While the civil aviation authority (DGAC) has approved the crossing from a beach near Calais to Dover in southern England –  a distance of around 50km – local maritime authorities have urged against it on safety grounds.

“We wrote to him to express our disapproval of the project,” the local maritime authority in northern France told AFP last week.

“It's an extremely dangerous area. We weren't sure if he'd be able to fly over container ships. The Calais strait sees a quarter of the world's traffic, including very large boats”.


'Total nonsense'

Zapata has been asked to alert maritime safety officers when he begins the crossing “so they can track him and respond to any problems at sea”.

The Marseille-born engineer, who carries the kerosene for the flyboard in a rucksack on his back, said the concerns were “total nonsense”.

“They let me fly 30 metres away from the President but now they're talking about the risk of hitting a boat?” he told French TV channel BFM on Friday.

“Even the maritime safety authority agreed (that)…  there are a dozen slots during the day when there are no boats.” 

Zapata launched his “Flyboard Air” in 2016, the latest addition to his eponymous brand, which includes a water-propelled hoverboard and a flying jet-ski priced at €4,500.

The device is powered by five small jet engines and controlled by a handheld throttle, which Zapata activates to take off after strapping himself into a pair of boots attached to the board.

Features include “auto-hover mode” and “quick release boots” in case of an emergency landing on water, according to Zapata's website.

Military potential

The French government has praised the “Made In France” invention and even hinted at its military potential.

President Emmanuel Macron posted a video of Zapata's stunt at the July 14 parade, with the caption, “Proud of our army, modern and innovative”.

French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly told France Inter radio that the “Flyboard” “can allow tests for different kinds of uses, for example as a flying logistical platform or, indeed, as an assault platform.”

Zapata said the device can run autonomously for around 10 minutes, and that he would need to make a refuelling stop on a boat in English waters.

“We were originally planning to refuel mid-flight but we had to change all that about ten days ago,” he told French TV channel BFM on Friday, explaining that French authorities had denied him permission to re-fuel in French waters.

A second boat will be waiting nearer the English coast “in case a second refuel is needed”, said Anna Venekas, a spokeswoman for Zapata. 

The English Channel, a 34 km stretch of water between France and Britain, has attracted daredevils before.

In 2010, America's Jonathan Trappe crossed the Channel dangling from a bunch of helium balloons.

And in 2003, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner – who went on to jump from the edge of space in 2012 – glided from England to France wearing an aerodynamic suit fitted with a six-foot carbon-fibre wing.

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France to roll out ID cards app

Technology is being rolled out to allow people to carry their French ID cards in an app form - and could be rolled out to other cards, including driving licences and cartes de séjour residency cards.

France to roll out ID cards app

Holders of French carte d’identité (ID cards) will soon be able to carry certified digital versions of them on their smartphone or other electronic devices, a decree published in the Journal Officiel has confirmed.

An official app is being developed for holders of the newer credit card-format ID cards that have information stored on a chip. A provisional test version of the app is expected at the end of May.

Users will be able to use the ID card app, when it becomes available, for a range of services “from checking in at the airport to renting a car”, according to Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market.

All French citizens have an ID card, which can be used for proving identity in a range of circumstances and for travel within the EU and Schengen zone – the new app will be in addition to the plastic card that holders already have.

Under the plans, after downloading the app, card holders will need merely to hold the card close to their phone to transfer the required information. According to officials, the holder then can decide what information is passed on – such as proof of age, or home address – according to the situation.

The government has not given any examples of situations in which the app would need to be used, but has set out the main principles and the ambition of the plan: to allow everyone to identify themselves and connect to certain public and private organisations, in particular those linked to the France Connect portal.

READ ALSO What is France Connect and how could it make your life simpler?

Cards will continue to be issued for the foreseeable future – this is merely an extension of the existing system.

Only French citizens have ID cards, but if successful the app is expected to be rolled out to include other cards, such as driving licences, cartes de séjour residency cards or even visas. A digital wallet is being developed at the European level – Member States have until September to agree what it could contain.

READ ALSO Eight smartphone apps that make life in France a bit easier