Ferry company Brittany Ferries has announced it will partner with US-based start-up Regent Craft to develop sea-skimming “flying ferries” that can cut sailing times between England and France to just 40 minutes.
Brittany Ferries described the proposed battery-powered vehicle as combining “the convenience of passenger ferries with the comfort of hydrofoils, the aerodynamic efficiency of hovercraft and the speed of aircraft”.
It looks like a small plane skimming over the sea surface. It uses the wing-in-ground effect, which means that you ride on a cushion of air that sits between a wing and the surface of the water; this is similar to how a hovercraft supports itself as it moves.
After departure from a port, the vessel rises on foils that insulate passengers from discomfort. In open water, it rises and rides its 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 control airflow over the wings while riding on the air cushion.
It will skim the sea at speeds of up to 180 mph and will require “minimum power” to carry hundreds of passengers, said Brittany Ferries, which covered 180 miles on a single charge.
The “flying ferry” could carry 50-150 people across the Channel in just 40 minutes (the crossing from Portsmouth to Cherbourg takes about five hours on a conventional ferry). It hopes to conduct commercial operations by 2028.
Brittany Ferries acknowledged that its plan will face significant “technical and regulatory challenges”, but said this should not be a barrier to pursuing promising, sustainable technologies. It advises Regent Craft on practical matters involved in operating fast craft, due to its experience with the high speed catamaran, the Normandie Express.
The vehicle is under development in the US. Frederic Pouget, Director of Ports and Operations at Brittany Ferries, said: “We are delighted to be making a contribution now as it means we can bring real challenges and potential applications to the early thinking of the company.
We hope this can contribute to commercial success in the years to come. Who knows, this could well be the birth of ferries flying across the Channel.”
Regent Craft co-founder Billy Thalheimer added: “We are delighted to partner with Brittany Ferries to bring the future of maritime transport to the market. Brittany Ferries offers a world-class operational experience, which will help us ensure that Seagliders will be the most convenient and comfortable form of travel across the Channel.
” Using a hovercraft to transport many people over water is not a new concept; the largest civilian hovercraft to enter regular service was the massive SR.N4 hovercraft, which transported hundreds of people across the English Channel.
However, it was withdrawn from service in 2000, largely due to competition from the Channel Tunnel. It remains to be seen whether Brittany Ferries’ Seaglider will be able to compete with the convenience of road and rail transport between England and France.