Cross-Channel 'flying ferries' concept revealed for Portsmouth route

  • Published
Media caption,

The new ferries would cross from Portsmouth to France in under an hour

"Flying ferries" could soon be crossing the English Channel as part of radical new plans.

Brittany Ferries said its proposed craft "foils like a hydrofoil, hovers like a hovercraft and flies like a plane... with the comfort and convenience of a ferry".

The all-electric, sea-skimming gliders are set to travel from Portsmouth to Cherbourg in 40 minutes.

The 150-capacity craft could be ready for commercial passengers by 2025.

The zero-emission vehicles, developed in the United States by Boston-based start-up Regional Electric Ground Effect Naval Transport (Regent), are expected to travel at speeds of up to 180 mph (290 kph).

They will be about six times faster than conventional ferries, with a battery range of about 180 miles (290 km).

Image source, Brittany Ferries/Regent
Image caption,
The sea gliders will be about six times faster than conventional ferries

They rise on foils following their departure from a port, before taking off and riding a cushion of air a few metres above the water's surface for the rest of the journey.

Frederic Pouget, ports and operations director for Brittany Ferries, described it as an "attractive and exciting concept".

He said it was about bringing "real-world challenges and potential applications into the company's thinking at an early stage".

Image source, Brittany Ferries/Regent
Image caption,
The craft ride a cushion of air, a few metres above the water's surface

Both companies said there would be "many technological, practical and regulatory questions" raised by the project.

But added: "Caution should not be an impediment to the development of a promising concept that already has a history in military applications and smaller leisure craft operating around the world."

The technology for sea gliders was applied by the Soviets on their so-called Caspian Sea Monster, but only one was ever built.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Soviets' so-called Caspian Sea Monster applied similar technology

Jonathan Ridley, head of engineering at Warsash Maritime School, told the BBC the plans were "really quite viable".

He said: "We know that shipping creates a huge amount of greenhouse gas emission, primarily through the fuels used, but also through the sheer volume of shipping we have internationally."

Analysis

By Paul Clifton - BBC South transport correspondent

A flying ferry? It's easy to dismiss the idea as being at the slightly bonkers end of future transport technology but several companies around the world are working on the concept.

It matters because 90% of global trade is carried by sea. Most ships still burn heavy oil, which is among the most polluting of fuels.

According to the International Maritime Organisation, shipping accounts for 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

Passengers may increasingly seek alternatives to flying because of its climate change impact.

If shipping is to decarbonise, radical alternatives will be needed.

Battery power would certainly be radical, but what size and weight of battery would be needed to power these craft, and how will they navigate the world's busiest shipping lanes at such speeds?

There are many questions. But a zero-emission concept, with low drag and high speed, is worth exploring.

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