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Tour de France adopts SAF for helicopter operations

Updated: Jul 26

Jean-Marc Genechesi, pilot, instructor and director of Hélicoptères de France (Photo: Airbus)

Helicopters play an essential role in the live broadcasting of major sporting events. The use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is a powerful lever for reducing their carbon footprint. The Tour de France and HBG group’s helicopters are a case in point.

HBG is a family-owned group with various brands, including Mont Blanc Hélicoptères and Hélicoptères de France.

Each of these two companies has its own area of excellence: the former for EMS, the latter for aerial work, firefighting and support for world-class events.

Examples include the Dakar Rally in winter and cycling races the rest of the year, culminating in the Tour de France in July.

The French countryside (Photo: Airbus)

“We use seven to nine helicopters for this big race,” said Jean-Marc Genechesi, pilot, instructor and director of Hélicoptères de France. “Our helicopters are in fact used by two clients: ASO, the organizer of the tour, and Euromedia (for France Télévisions), which provides the images that are broadcast around the world.”

H125 helicopters fit the needs for transport, filming

Needs vary from one to the other. ASO uses helicopters to move VIPs or organizers, for which single-engine H125s are sufficient.

The case is different for France Télévisions, which only works with twin-engine Ecureuils for filming.

“[This is a] motorization required for all low-level flights,” Genechesi explained. “The perfection and fluidity of the images provided throughout the different stages of the tour cleverly conceal the complexity of the organization, with, for example, strict routing requirements and the need to set up numerous temporary helipads to refuel the aircraft. Furthermore, since last year, the use of biofuel (SAF) has become a requirement.”

SAF for a reduced carbon footprint

“Reducing the carbon footprint has been one of the tour’s main concerns for several years,” Genechesi said. “Just as electric cars have been introduced to the convoy, last year ASO asked us to cover a third of all stages with SAF fuel, which we did.”

This was a request easily met. The H125 is certified to fly with 50 percent of SAF, which is the case for all the helicopters within the Airbus range.

Today, SAF can reduce CO2 emissions by 80 percent on average throughout its lifecycle, with no change in consumption or power output compared with traditional fuel.

HBG is gearing up for this year’s iteration of Tour de France held July 1 through July 23.

The group plans to have H125s for ASO’s transportation needs, and three for Euromedia (France Télévisions) for aerial filming and broadcasting.

With the mandatory use of SAF, HGB has put the motions in place to make the biofuel accessible throughout the course of the race.

“Last year, there was only one SAF storage and delivery point in the south of France,” Genechesi said. “For the 2023 tour, SAF will be available at several airports, which will help us achieve even more ambitious consumption objectives.”

He added there will also be a truck to help with the refueling at the Annemasse airport.

In total, Hélicoptères de France will use SAF for 50 percent of the stages for ASO and 30 percent for France Télévisions—a small breakthrough for a major event.

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