Electric seagliders could be the next innovation for interisland travel on Mokulele Airlines
All-electric seagliders could be the next aviation innovation, a marrying of maritime and flying technologies, to ferry people between the Hawaiian Islands.
The Boston-based glider manufacturer REGENT announced on Monday it will partner with Pacific Current and Mokulele Airlines to bring seagliders to Hawaiʻi.
REGENT CEO Billy Thalheimer said a feasibility study with Pacific Current, a Hawaiian Electric Industries subsidiary, will look at infrastructure needs, sustainable electricity, and environmental and community impacts.
Mokulele Airlines, a Southern Airways Company, will be the Hawaiʻi launch partner. Thalheimer said the airline has paid deposits to be at the front of the line for a 12-passenger seaglider model called Viceroy.
"Hawaiʻi is such a unique and interesting market. It's been a hotbed of aviation really since the dawn of aviation because of the distances between the islands, the treachery of the waterways between the islands too," Thalheimer said. "We've approached the market with a listen-first, community-first, environment-first mindset. We've solicited lots of feedback."
REGENT plans to start seaglider services globally at the end of 2025, but an exact Hawaiʻi launch date has not yet been set, Thalheimer said.
"We're going dock to dock, over water, which still is perfectly suited for Hawaiʻi," he said. "So you don't need to go through the agita and time of an airport."
Seagliders would depart from harbors on hydrofoils — technology you might see on eFoil surfboards or racing yachts, Thalheimer said.
"Then we take off onto our wing once we get out in the open water, and this is where we accelerate to aircraft speeds, 180 miles an hour, but we do so all within a wingspan of the surface of the water," he told HPR's The Conversation. "They'll do all of this with zero emissions, or 100% battery-electric powered, and they'll do all of it at about half the cost of an aircraft."
"It lowers your time door to door. It lowers the cost of traveling on these regional routes in between the islands, and it completely eliminates emissions."
Thalheimer said the electric seagliders could potentially serve tens of millions of people around the world each year. In the United States, the Coast Guard will be the certification authority.
“Reducing the carbon footprint of aviation is integral to achieving our state's renewable energy goals and we appreciate that REGENT is working with communities on this effort," said Scott Glenn, chief energy officer for Hawai‘i, in a statement.
Hawaiian Airlines is also exploring electric seaglider technology with REGENT but has not committed to purchasing any of the seagliders. A news release from REGENT said Hawaiian agreed to invest to support the initial design of the company's next-generation seaglider with capacity for 100 people.
This interview aired on The Conversation on June 20, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1