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UK ferry company looks to slash travel times with low-flying transport craft

A five-hour crossing could be over in just 40 minutes

Brittany Ferries aims to operate the British coast's fastest sea services. IMAGE FROM BRITTANY FERRIES

Ferries continue to be a popular form of transport especially in coastal areas. Tickets are often cheaper than air services, and passengers are not hassled by airport security checks and cramped aircraft cabins. But one obvious drawback of ferries is speed, with vessels trundling along at an average of just 22 knots (41km/h). But one ferry operator plans to solve that with a craft that literally jumps out of the water.

Brittany Ferries plans to start passenger services with low-flying vehicles. Dubbed “seagliders,” these transports will reportedly cruise at 156 knots (290km/h) while skimming the surface of the water. Currently in development by Boston-based startup Regent, seagliders will be powered by eight electric motors driving one propeller each. These will carry anywhere between 50 and 150 passengers.

GEVs take advantage of reduced drag by flying just a few meters above water. IMAGES FROM BRITTANY FERRIES

The seaglider is classified as a ground-effect vehicle (GEV). Ground effect is the reduction in aerodynamic drag when an airplane flies above a fixed surface at a height that is about half the length of its wingspan. Less drag means GEVs can cruise at high speeds while consuming less fuel (or battery power, in the case of the all-electric seaglider).

The technology was pioneered in the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. The navy wanted a waterborne craft that was far faster than the fastest warships in its fleet. GEV studies started in the 1960s and went on until the collapse of the USSR in 1991. There have been several attempts to revive interest in these vehicles, but such projects never went past the drawing board.

Seagliders could be useful to business travelers needing fast intercity transportation. IMAGE FROM BRITTANY FERRIES

Brittany Ferries says that these high-speed craft will drastically cut travel times. For example, the average crossing time between Portsmouth (UK) and Cherbourg (France) is around five hours and 30 minutes. The company estimates that a seaglider can make the same voyage in as fast as 40 minutes, weather permitting. And it can do so with a significantly reduced carbon footprint by virtue of the vehicle’s all-electric propulsion system.

The UK-based ferry company isn’t the only one interested in acquiring seagliders. According to Regent, Caribbean charter firms catering to leisure and business travelers will also be supplied by its sea-skimming transport business. Brittany plans to start seaglider services in 2028.

Miggi Solidum

Miggi is an editor-at-large at VISOR. Professionally speaking, he is a software engineering dude who happens to like cars a lot. And as an automotive enthusiast, he wants a platform from which he can share his motoring thoughts with fellow petrolheads. He writes the 'G-Force' column.