The French shipping line has signed a letter of intent with the Boston-based start-up REGENT to develop an all-electric, wing-in-ground effect vehicle (WIG).
Otherwise known as a seaglider, the vehicle works by harnessing the ground effect, a cushion created by high-pressure air trapped between wings and the ground or water while flying at low altitude.
Following departure from port, the craft rises on foils, insulating passengers from wave discomfort. In open waters, it takes off, riding the air cushion to its destination. Wing-mounted propellors provide the thrust to take to the air at low speeds, while electric motors regulate airflow over wings while riding the air cushion.
"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," the company said in a press release.
Seagliders with a 50-150 passenger capacity could start sailing between the UK and France by 2028. REGENT expects the first commercial passengers to travel on a smaller electric craft by 2025.
With next-generation batteries, the vehicle's mileage is expected to increase up to 500 miles.