Hawaiian Airlines Invests in Island-Hopping Electric Seagliders

Image Credit: Hawaiian Airlines

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It’s a boat… it’s a plane… it’s a seaglider! Fully electric, powered by eight propellers, hovering 30 feet above the ocean, and charging forward at 180 miles per hour — it’s how Hawaiian Airlines is betting travelers will one day island hop from Maui to Oahu and beyond.

The largest commercial flight operator in America’s lone archipelago state announced a strategic investment in the Massachusetts firm that’s developing the breakthrough new boat-plane-glider on Wednesday.

Do the Electric Glide

Being responsible for 2.5% of all human-induced CO2 emissions puts immense pressure on aviation companies to go green. And what better way to get there than in a futuristic electric vehicle that floats like a hovercraft, flies like a low-swooping bird, and docks like a boat?

That’s precisely what the engineers at Boston-based Regent are aiming for. Apparently, words fail the company’s future products, now in development, but thankfully a CGI video set to Miami Vice-type music gets the job done in style. For Hawaiian Airlines, which did not detail its investment, partnering with Regent is a chance to stake out a future as it recovers from Covid-era losses. Hawaiian’s $1.6 billion in revenue last year was down 44% compared to pre-pandemic 2019. Seagliders could help in a few ways:

  • Seagliders are categorized as Wing in Ground Effect craft, or WIGs, which are regulated by the US Coast Guard, and not the Federal Aviation Administration. That means the FAA rule that pilots need 1,500 hours of training — which has contributed to a shortage of thousands of pilots, causing thousands of flights to be canceled this year — doesn’t apply here.
  • Regent’s seagliders can glide in and out of harbors, meaning they can use existing infrastructure, reducing capital costs. Their electric-battery-powered motors will also be welcome at Hawaiian, which partly attributed a disappointing $122 million loss in the first quarter to rising fuel prices.

On Board: Regent has raised $27 million from investors including Thiel Capital and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Regional carrier Mesa Air agreed to buy 200 twelve-passenger Regent seagliders to service US East Coast hubs starting in 2025. Hawaiian will work with Regent to develop a 100-passenger version with a 2028 launch in mind.

Big in Japan: Inter-island travel accounted for 20% of Hawaiian’s passenger revenue before the pandemic. Unfortunately, the seaglider’s 180-mile range will prevent it from flying the 4,000-mile route to Japan, which represents 70% of the airline’s international revenues.