By Thomas Bywater

A zero emissions flying ferry has taken its first flight towards changing the way New Zealanders get about.

The Ocean Flyer “seaglider” is part ferry, part plane and a bold bid to bring electric air transport to New Zealand.

In April, Air Napier owner Shal Aslam and former RNZAF Air Vice Marshal John Hamilton signed a $700 million contract for 25 of the watercraft to New Zealand. A brave gambit considering the prototype transport had yet to take off.

Last Thursday, the aircraft took its first flight in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.

Billy Thalheimer, CEO and co-founder of aeronautical engineers REGENT did not downplay his big ambitions for the technology.

“This is the next great moment in the history of human transportation,” said an ecstatic Thalheimer. “40 per cent of the world’s population lives in coastal communities,” he said which he hopes to impress with the gliders’ test show of “float, foil and fly”

It is the company’s ambition to be flying passengers in New York City, the Hawaiian Islands, Barcelona and Tokyo by the end of 2025. The company announced it already had almost $12 billion in orders for the electric seaplanes from international buyers, Aotearoa among them.

Shah Aslam was more pragmatic about what the “bold solution” meant for New Zealand and its green transport aspirations.

“The Government’s ambition for New Zealand to be carbon neutral by 2050 is going to be hard to achieve,” said Aslam, following last week’s test flight.

“Seagliders are perfect for our island nation and will help make our transition to carbon neutrality a reality.”

Capable of carrying 100 passengers at speeds of 540kmph, the firm aims to deliver regional flights at ferry ticket prices. In April the company suggested that a flight from Whangārei to Auckland could cost as little as $30 and take under half an hour.

The fleet of 25 Seagliders will operate initially out of Auckland and Wellington, with plans to serve Cook Strait services as far as Wellington to Christchurch.

If it gets off the water, Ocean Flyer aims to deliver low-cost fares and bus-like frequency through low operating cost of the craft is perfect for serving New Zealand’s coastal cities. Whether it’s a plane, ferry or a hydrofoil, the unusual electric transport could be landing at a harbour front near you in the not too distant future.