* New all-electric craft concept foils like a hydrofoil and flies like a plane – all with the comfort and convenience of a ferry
Brittany Ferries is exploring the potential for a new high-speed, sustainable and more efficient form of ferry travel called a seaglider. The concept, an all-electric, wing-in-ground effect vehicle (WIG), is under development in the United States through Boston-based start-up REGENT (Regional Electric Ground Effect Nautical Transport).
Brittany Ferries 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 expects the first commercial passengers to travel on smaller electric craft by 2025.
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 – six times faster than conventional ferries – 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.
They 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.
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 propellors 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’s a highly efficient mode of transport, capable of moving significant loads over long distances at high speed. Power will come from batteries rather than fossil fuel. Flight safety comes courtesy of redundant propulsion and flight control systems, with next-generation sensor suites detecting and automatically avoiding traffic at sea.
Energy transition is a priority for forward-looking companies like Brittany Ferries and is key to its recovery post-Covid. Based in Roscoff France, the company has already invested in the delivery of two new LNG (liquefied natural gas) ships for delivery in 2022 and 2023 called Salamanca and Santoña.
Its partnership with REGENT goes one step further. It is a visionary project which offers an exciting glimpse into the future, the kind of vehicle never before seen in Franco-British waters. Brittany Ferries is contributing to development discussions, as the company has a track record in operating fast ferries such as Normandie Express (currently chartered to Condor Ferries).