Mokulele is exploring whether it might eventually add a novel, electric-powered craft that’s part-plane, part-boat to the airline’s fleet for its interisland passenger service in Hawaii.

The regional airline, which is run by Palm Beach, Fla.-based Southern Airways, recently partnered with two other companies: Pacific Current, the Hawaiian Electric subsidiary that aims to boost local renewable energy use, and Massachusetts-based Regent Craft Inc., which is developing the prototype.

Those two companies are studying whether it’s feasible to operate Regent’s 12-passenger “Viceroy” seaglider in Hawaii. Seagliders are an emerging transportation design that have been described as “not quite a boat but not quite a plane either.”

Plane electric Mokulele
An artist’s rendering of an electric-powered ‘seaglider’ that Mokulele might eventually use in its interisland service. The airline has partnered with two other companies to see if it’s feasible in Hawaii. Courtesy: REGENT

If it is possible, Mokulele could start flying a network of those all-electric, zero-emission Viceroys in Hawaii as early as 2025, said Billy Thalheimer, Regent’s co-founder and CEO. That network could help the nation’s lone island state meet its ambitious clean energy goals, which include going carbon-neutral by 2045.

Seagliders, also called “wing-in-ground effect vehicles,” are still in the testing phase and not in service yet, according to Regent. The craft take off from the water and then fly very low, within a wingspan of the surface. That unique design and the aerodynamics involved help make them cheaper to operate than standard airplanes, according to a press release.

The craft can travel as far as 180 miles based on existing battery technology, it added. As battery technology improves the seagliders should be able to eventually fly as far as 500 miles, according to the release.

The feasibility study underway will examine potential routes, wind and wave conditions, harbors and docks, charging infrastructure, noise levels above and below the water, plus the impacts to Hawaii communities and the natural environment, Thalheimer said.

The full extent of the regulatory hurdles such an operation would face in Hawaii still aren’t clear, but the feasibility study will cover that too, he added. Regent and its partners say they expect that they’d work closely with the state’s Department of Transportation, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and potentially the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Additionally, the seagliders, with their unique hydrofoil design, would be regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard instead of the Federal Aviation Administration, Thalheimer said. The Coast Guard would also have to certify the proper safety and training for seaglider captains, he said.

Beyond Hawaii, Regent is looking to partner on its seagliders with regional airlines and ferries that operate in Arizona, New Zealand, the Caribbean and the English Channel, according to its website.

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