Kiwi startup Ocean Flyer signs $145m deal to operate seagliders in New Zealand

  • 15/05/2024

Regional flights are becoming more and more expensive, but a Kiwi start-up is providing some hope for those moving around the country - promising fares around $50. 

Ocean Flyer, which is looking to operate 25 electric flying boats, has secured a $145 million deal to bring all-electric seagliders to operate in New Zealand. 

It's a major milestone for the deployment of seagliders across the country - and promises to be a cheaper way for Kiwis to move around Aotearoa. 

They are zero-emission, high-speed electric wing-in-ground effect vessels developed by a team of MIT graduates and ex-Boeing engineers. 

UK-based investor MONTE will finance the first $145 million of Ocean Flyer's historic $700m agreement, signed in April 2022, with US-based manufacturer REGENT to bring the 25 seagliders to New Zealand. 

Ocean Flyer has placed an order for 15 of the 12-seater seagliders and 10 which are up to 100-seats.
Ocean Flyer has placed an order for 15 of the 12-seater seagliders and 10 which are up to 100-seats. Photo credit: Supplied / AM

Ocean Flyer CEO Shah Aslam told AM on Wednesday he still wakes up pinching himself that this is real. 

"It's exciting, it's cool to see all the support we've received locally and overseas and I think it just shows confidence not just in Ocean Flyer but also in the country of New Zealand from overseas investors," he said. 

Ocean Flyer has placed an order for 15 of the 12-seater seagliders and 10 which are up to 100-seats. 

"With this funding of $145m we'll be able to move up to a million passengers or about 43 million cages of cargo on an annual basis," Aslam said. 

He likened the operation of the fleet to running a bus or train service. 

"Every 20, 30 minutes you should be able to hop on one of these and get to the other side." 

The next step was to get the seagliders into the country. 

"The prototype has been flying, we're still a couple of years away. That gives us time to get the infrastructure ready and regulation and everything so that's the key aim now," Aslam said. 

"We're still looking at that mid-decade timeline and I think this will definitely revolutionise the way transport's done in New Zealand." 

And without the need for massive infrastructure, like long runways, Aslam said they would be taking advantage of the "natural infrastructure" Aotearoa has to offer. 

"That's the beauty of this, the waterways." 

Aslam explained how the seagliders work, saying they start on its hull in the water and as it gains speed - about 20km/h - it raises on its foils and from there as it gains more speed, it takes off, flying about 10 metres above the water. From there, it flies at about 300km/h. 

"So pretty fast, as an example you're looking at Auckland (to) Whangārei in about 35 to 40 minutes," he said. 

"And costs are pretty low as well because you're fully electric and regulated by Maritime [rather than the Civil Aviation Authority which regulates planes]. You're looking at about $50 to $60 one-day." 

Aslam said Ocean Glider hasn't announced routes yet, but it's expected to later this year. 

"I think it's fair to say Northland could potentially be one of the first routes," he hinted. 

"We're looking at a couple other regions around Auckland as well. Auckland, look, it is the biggest market so definitely it will be out of Auckland or into Auckland, but we will announce that later on in the year." 

MONTE has been around for over 30 years, and Aslam said their visions and strategy aligns with what Ocean Flyer was trying to do in New Zealand. 

"Regional transport, not just in New Zealand but I think globally, has always been a challenging aspect," he said, noting skyrocketing prices. 

"I think we've got a real opportunity here with seagliders to kind of change some of those negative connotations around regional connectivity. 

"But we also have to appreciate that regional connectivity generates prosperity, it's important for the regions - connecting the regions to the larger centres like Auckland or Wellington. Not only moving business and people and goods, but you're giving access to people for education, for healthcare and for other life ailments."