Brittany Ferry and seaglider concept art

Zero-emission ‘Seagliders’ could cross Channel in 40 minutes

Image credit: Brittany Ferries

Ferry operator Brittany Ferries has announced that it will work with US-based start-up Regent Craft to develop sea-skimming “flying ferries” that could reduce sailing times between England and France to as little as 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 resembles a small aircraft which skims the surface of the sea. It uses the wing-in ground effect, which would involve riding on a cushion of air trapped between a wing and the water surface; this is similar to how a hovercraft supports itself as it moves.

Following departure from a port, the craft rises on foils insulating passengers from discomfort. In open waters, it takes off, riding 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 regulate air flow over wings while riding the air cushion.

It will skim the sea at speeds reaching 180mph and will require “minimal power” to move hundreds of passengers, Brittany Ferries said, covering 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 approximately five hours by conventional ferry). It hopes to start running commercial operations in 2028.

Brittany Ferries acknowledged that its plan will face considerable “technical and regulatory challenges” but said that this should not be a barrier to pursuing promising, sustainable technologies.

It is advising Regent Craft on practical issues involved in running fast craft, due to its experience with the high-speed catamaran, the Normandie Express. The vehicle is under development in the US.

Brittany Ferries’ ports and operations director Frederic Pouget said: “We are particularly pleased to contribute now because it means we can bring real-world challenges and potential applications into the company’s early thinking. We hope this may help bring commercial success in the years that follow. Who knows, this could well be the birth of ferries that fly across the Channel.”

Regent Craft co-founder Billy Thalheimer added: “We are 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 us ensure that Seagliders will be the most convenient and comfortable form of cross-Channel travel.”

Using a hovercraft to transport many people over water is not a new concept; the largest civilian hovercraft to have been put into regular service was the enormous SR.N4 hovercraft, which carried hundreds of people across the English Channel. However, it was taken out of service in 2000, largely due to competition from the Channel Tunnel. It remains to be seen whether the Brittany Ferries’ Seaglider will be able to compete with the convenience of road and rail transport between England and France.

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