Brittany Ferries and US start-up Regent plan to develop a high-speed electric seaglider that would skim above the water to take 50 to 150 passengers between France and Britain, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.
The project is based on a craft being developed by Boston-based Regent that could result in "50-150 passenger capacity sailing between the UK and France by 2028," a statement said.
Regent expects the first commercial passengers to travel on smaller electric craft by 2025, it added.
Seagliders, sometimes called wing-in-ground effect vehicles, benefit from a cushion of "high-pressure air trapped between wings and the ground or water while flying at low altitude," the ferry company explained.
"Seagliders are therefore akin to a hovercraft with wings, rather than a skirt," it said.
Capable in theory of flying at up to 290 kilometres per hour, or six times faster than conventional ferries, the electric-powered craft cut emissions to essentially zero.
A trip from Cherbourg, France, to Portsmouth in England is forecast to take 40 minutes.
Currently, Brittany Ferries advertises high-speed service that takes three hours.
"The craft rises on foils insulating passengers from wave discomfort. In open waters, it takes off, riding the air cushion all the way to its destination," the statement said.
"For Brittany Ferries, the energy transition is a priority," says the company, which recently invested in two new LNG (liquefied natural gas) powered ships, due for delivery in 2022 and 2023.
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The start-up Regent, based in Boston (north-eastern United States), is working on several models of Seagliders, but all operate on the same principle.
Brittany Ferries has 12 ships operating between France, the UK, Spain and Ireland via 14 maritime routes.
Heavily affected by the Covid-19 health crisis, but also by the Brexit, it transported around 750,000 passengers last year, compared with 2.5 million in 2019. Its turnover fell by 57% to 202.4 million euros in 2020.
Based in Roscoff, Brittany Ferries employs 2,474 people, including 1,600 sailors.