The potential for a new high-speed electric seaplane-style craft is being considered by Brittany Ferries.
The French ferry firm has signed a letter of intent which could see ‘seagliders’ with a 50-150 passenger capacity sailing between the UK and France by 2028.
Operating a few meters above the water’s surface, they combine the high speed of an aircraft with the low operating cost of a ship.
Seagliders claim to combine the convenience of passenger ferries with the comfort of hydrofoils, the aerodynamic efficiency of hovercraft and the speed of aircraft.
With the potential to connect existing ferry ports, the craft are expected to fly at speeds of up to 180 mph – six times faster than conventional ferries – with a battery-powered range of 180 miles.
The voyage from Portsmouth to Cherbourg could be covered in as little as 40 minutes.
REGENT is working on several different sizes of passenger-carrying seagliders, all of which operate on the same principle.
The concept wing-in-ground effect vehicle (WIG), is under development in the US by Boston-based start-up REGENT (Regional Electric Ground Effect Nautical Transport).
The firm expects the first commercial passengers to travel on smaller electric craft by 2025.
Following departure from port, the craft rises on foils insulating passengers from wave discomfort. In open waters, it takes off, riding the air cushion all the way to its destination.
Wing-mounted propellers provide the thrust to take to the air at low speeds, while electric motors regulate air flow over wings while riding the air cushion.
Power will come from batteries rather than fossil fuel with next-generation sensors detecting and automatically avoiding traffic at sea.
Brittany Ferries ports and operations director Frederic Pouget said: “Seaglider is an attractive and exciting concept and we look forward to working with REGENT in the months and years to come.
“We are particularly pleased to contribute now because it means we can bring real-world challenges and potential applications into the company’s thinking at an early stage. We hope this may help bring commercial success in the years that follow. Who knows; this could be the birth of ferries that fly across the Channel.”
REGENT co-founder and chief executive Billy Thalheimer added: “REGENT is excited to partner with Brittany Ferries to bring the future of maritime transportation to market.
“Brittany Ferries offers world-class operational experience which will help REGENT ensure that our seagliders will be the most convenient and comfortable form of cross-Channel travel.”