The craft, an all-electric, wing-in-ground effect vehicle (WIG) which travels six times faster than a ferry, is under development in the United States through Boston-based start-up Regent (Regional Electric Ground Effect Nautical Transport), and Brittany Ferries is exploring its potential.
The ferry firm, which operates services to France and Spain from Portsmouth, Plymouth and Poole, has signed a letter of intent which could see seagliders with a 50-150 passenger capacity sailing between the UK and France by 2028.
Regent, which is working on several craft on different sizes, expects the first commercial passengers to travel on its smaller electric craft by 2025.
Frédéric Pouget, ports and operations director for Brittany Ferries, 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.’
Seagliders 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 with a battery-powered range of 180 miles.
The voyage from Portsmouth to Cherbourg, for example, could be covered in as little as 40 minutes.
The seagliders work by harnessing a concept well-known to pilots – ground effect. This is the cushion created by high-pressure air trapped between wings and the ground or water while flying at low altitude.
Seagliders are therefore akin to a hovercraft with wings, rather than a skirt.
Billy Thalheimer, co-founder and chief executive of Regent, said: ‘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.’
Mike Sellers, Portsmouth International Port director, welcomed the idea.
He said: ‘We are excited about this ground breaking concept from Brittany Ferries, which fits neatly with our own forward thinking plans to help facilitate sustainable, modern travel.
‘As a port it is fantastic to share a bold vision to tackle emissions and carbon reduction with our customers, and Brittany Ferries is already on track to deliver with their new e-flexer LNG vessels due next year.
‘The shipping industry can offer some of the most innovative transport ideas and we support such a visionary approach. We can’t wait to see this develop over the next few years.’
The seaglider is a highly efficient mode of transport, with power coming from batteries rather than fossil fuel.
Brittany Ferries said it is committed to energy transition – shifting from fossil-based systems of energy production and consumption – and it has already invested in the delivery of two new LNG (liquefied natural gas) ships for delivery in 2022 and 2023 called Salamanca and Santoña.