Correction: A previous version of this article erred in its description of Regent's seaglider in both the text and the headline.
Regent announced a partnership June 21 with Pacific Current, a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Industries, to develop a transportation network among the islands of Hawaii using flying boats. Regent’s seagliders will take off from dockside and fly just above the water. Mokulele Airlines, a Southern Airways company, will be the launch partner for the transportation network.
SMS Research, a market research firm based in Honolulu, has been tasked with conducting a feasibility study as the first step. Regent co-founder and CEO Billy Thalheimer said the study will look at potential routes, available docking facilities, the geography of the waterways, harbor traffic and the permits needed to build any new facilities and begin operations.
Pacific Current, Regent’s energy and infrastructure partner for Hawaii, will assist in developing and providing access to renewable energy and electric charging infrastructure for the vehicles. Thalheimer added that Pacific Current will provide vehicle financing for Mokulele Airlines and is co-funding the feasibility study with Regent.
Regent, which is only in its second year, is developing a flying boat with a 180-mile range that can carry up to 12 passengers at a cruise speed of 180 miles per hour. The company unveiled a quarter-scale prototype of the seaglider in April, which is currently testing operations, Thalheimer said.
Thalheimer envisions the network featuring both inter-island and intra-island routes, benefitting both island residents and tourists. Regent’s seagliders can carry passengers or cargo, another potential use in Hawaii, he said.
The company has been in discussions with Hawaii officials, said Thalheimer. “We've had over 250 meetings with various stakeholders from the executive branch, legislative branch, mayors of many of the cities and islands, and community groups.”
Thalheimer said the feasibility study will also look at potential environmental impacts of the service on Hawaii’s marine plants and animals. The island chain’s marine ecosystem is home to critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals and ecologically important coral reefs. Each winter, thousands of humpback whales also congregate in the state’s waters, where they breed and give birth.
According to a Regent spokesperson, the company has an order for 20 seagliders on its books from Southern Airways Express along with 25 seagliders from New Zealand-based Ocean Flyer and a deal with Split Express, a Croatian fast ferry operator, for an undisclosed number of the vehicles. In May, Hawaiian Airlines agreed to invest in Regent to support the initial design of a larger, 100-seat electric seaglider.
Mokulele Airlines currently operates inter-island flights with single-engine, propeller driven aircraft. Stan Little, CEO of Southern Airways Express and Mokulele, said in a press release that the seaglider “will enable our airline to offer new services that aren’t possible today.”
According to Thalheimer, Regent aims to complete certification of the 12-passenger flying boat and be ready for commercial operations by the end of 2025. “Whether that's [in] Hawaii or some of Southern Airways Express’ East Coast operations is up to them,” he said.