US aerospace manufacturer Regent has successfully flown its prototype seaglider. Photo / Supplied
An electric seaglider will turn a one-way trip between Whangārei and Auckland into a 45-minute jaunt but it won’t arrive in New Zealand until 2026.
The new mode of transportation is being touted as a panacea to transport connectivity between Northland and the rest of the country, especially during natural disasters, and the electric sea gliders will move up to six million passengers and 250 million kg of freight a year in New Zealand.
Ocean Flyer, the NZ company that will operate them, signed a memorandum of understanding with Northport and Northland Inc at Marsden Cove Marina on Friday. The agreements could make Whangārei the first destination in its network.
The agreement with Northport covers the design and development of the infrastructure needed to operate an Ocean Flyer service from Whangārei. A terminal building, pontoons for berthing, an operating base, a simulation and training centre, and a sea glider haul-out and maintenance facility elsewhere in the area will be put in place.
Northland Inc will support Ocean Flyer and Northport in engagement with the community, local authorities and businesses, and help the operator establish operations and generate benefits for the region.
Ocean Flyer was founded by Shah Aslam, who owns Air Napier, and former Royal New Zealand Air Force chief John Hamilton. The company considered using electric planes but chose sea gliders because they would be certified to operate much earlier.
Aslam said Whangārei to Auckland would be a 45-minute trip on a sea glider and would cost between $50 and $80 per passenger.
A sea glider will float, foil and fly. It travels about 10 metres above the waves and uses the in-ground effect to reduce drag and increase range. Ocean Flyer is importing 25 sea gliders from the United States. The first tranche of five will arrive in New Zealand by 2026.
The company plans to start operations with a 12-seater Viceroy model which has 12 electric motors and a crew of two pilots. At a later stage, it will introduce 10 Monarch vehicles, each with 100 seats.
Aslam said Ocean Flyer would provide improved connections between Auckland and regional areas like Northland that were fast, affordable and sustainable.
“We’ve seen in recent times the havoc that bad weather can create with our transport infrastructure. Northland wasn’t the only region to have been cut off completely by road and rail. Our sea glider connections will add an important extra layer of robust connectivity to New Zealand’s transport infrastructure.”
“Better connections enable regional economic development which, in turn, leads to greater economic prosperity and wellbeing through better access to services and facilities.”
He said Northport and Northland Inc understood this perfectly, leading the call for enhanced transport links between Northland and Auckland for many years.
Aslam said the electric sea gliders would cost considerably less to operate than a comparable aircraft, resulting in an affordable seat price
Ocean Flyer’s investment in Northland extended beyond, he said, including Whangārei in its route network.
The sea gliders will be able to operate in most conditions.
“Our advanced avionics and the fact that we’ll be only a few metres above the surface of the water mean that we’d be able to operate in conditions that frequently impact flights between Whangārei and Auckland,” Aslam said.
Northland Inc chief executive Paul Linton said a new connection would offer Northland residents and businesses fast and affordable travel options not currently available by air, which would otherwise involve lengthy road journeys that emit greenhouse gasses.
“Such a service would improve supply chains, reduce downtime in businesses and enhance efficiency and productivity without adding to road congestion or greenhouse gas emissions,” Linton said.
Ocean Flyer’s seagliders will be regulated and certified by Maritime New Zealand.
Northport chief executive Jon Moore said the service Ocean Flyer was proposing meshed perfectly with Northport’s objective of providing better infrastructure and services for Northland.
“We have always played an important role in enhancing Northland’s connectivity and economic resilience. This Ocean Flyer initiative is bold and innovative.
“We are delighted to do everything we can to help the company realise these ambitions and make Whangārei one of the first destinations in its network.”
The infrastructure for seagliders is more affordable, requiring a terminal space on the coast with a pontoon rather than an airport, and it was more efficient to operate at 10 metres above the water than having to fly up to 6000 metres.