A trip between Whangārei’s Marsden Point to Auckland central could be slashed by 1.5 hours if a prototype vehicle takes flight – literally.
Despite still being in the prototype stage, the electric seagliders which are part ferry, part foiling boat, and part plane, may become a regular sight on Northland waters after the region’s economic development agency and port sign agreements with the company Ocean Flyer to set up its first terminal in Whangārei.
The Kiwi company hit headlines last year when it announced its $700 million deal with US manufacturer Regent to import 25 seagliders.
Seagliders are a new form of passenger transport vehicle that might best be described as a cross between a hydrofoil and a battery-powered seaplane.
The seagliders, which fly 10m above the water, are expected to reach speeds of up to 300kph for the 12-seater craft and 540kph for larger craft that can seat 100 people – taking just 35 minutes to travel from Whangārei’s Marsden Point to central Auckland, with trips costing about $50.
They fly take advantage of a phenomenon known as “in ground effect” which reduces drag and increases their range.
Northport chief executive Jon Moore said the proposed Ocean Flyer service complemented Northport’s objective of providing better infrastructure and services for Northland.
Northand Inc chief executive Paul Linton said the seagliders could be a game-changer for Northland – allowing people to live in Whangārei but work in central Auckland, and for Aucklanders to come north for a quick work trip or getaway, connecting with electric ferries also in the pipeline.
“It’s bringing a different type of connectivity [from Northland] to Auckland.
The agreements will make Whangārei the first terminal for docking and charging in the company’s network and one of the top places in the world for seaglider trials, second only to Hawaii, Linton said.
They also put Northland in a prime position for Ocean Flyer’s headquarters, maintenance area and training centre.
Linton said this will take advantage of Northland’s highly skilled marine engineering cluster, offering 40 to 100 jobs.
While he admitted the concept was novel – and Ocean Flyer would have to manage the risks as much as any new venture – Linton thought there was little downside to Northland giving its support.
He likened sceptics to horse riders who criticised the Model-T Ford when it was first produced.
“This particular venture is really exciting; it’s someone being innovative and attempting new technology.”
Ocean Flyer chief executive Shah Aslam, who is a former banker and Air Napier owner started Ocean Flyer with former New Zealand Air Force chief John Hamilton, has put down nearly $1 million as an initial deposit on a $700m order for 25 seagliders being developed by United States start-up Regent.
The order is for 15 smaller 12 seater craft and 10 of a planned version designed to carry 100 passengers.
He admitted there could be some delay for the first seagliders, which were initially expected in New Zealand by the end of 2025 and now possibly not ready until mid-2026.
Aslam said the service would provide improved connections between Auckland and regional New Zealand that were fast, affordable and sustainable.
Long-term, he expected Ocean Flyer to run seagliders from New Zealand to Australia and the Pacific.
Regent’s investors include US billionaires Peter Thiel and Mark Cuban, and FitBit founder James Park.
Other businesses that have placed orders totalling $8b include British cross-Channel ferry operator Brittany Ferries, which hopes to use seagliders on a route between Portsmouth and Cherbourg, and US commuter airline Southern Airways Express.