Ocean Flyer to launch NZ operations with 25 REGENT seagliders in 2025

Twenty-five all electric, zero-carbon seagliders are being brought into New Zealand in a $700 million agreement involving a company backed by controversial billionaire Peter Thiel.

The deal is between newly-established New Zealand transport business Ocean Flyer and US aerospace company REGENT, whose title is an acronym for "regional electric ground effect naval transport".

Ocean Flyer said Kiwis can expect to use its services from 2025 to travel routes such as Wellington-Christchurch in one hour from $60 per seat, or between Auckland and Whangarei on 30 minute one way trips from $30 per seat.

On AM, the company's CEO Shah Aslam also said Auckland-Waiheke would be a 12 minute trip starting at $12, while Wellington-Blenheim would be a 25 minute journey starting at $25 per seat.

The seagliders are described as eclectic flying ferries and will transport passengers between coastal cities. Their speed is comparable to that of an aircraft, but the operating costs are more similar to a boat, according to REGENT.

Ocean Flyer is a portfolio company of New Zealand private equity firm SO Capital, which also owns domestic airline Air Napier.

Its deal with REGENT is for 15 Viceroys, which can hold up to 12 passengers each, along with 10 Monarchs, which can hold up to 100 passengers each. The Viceroys are planned to be used on routes up to 300km and travel at nearly 300km/h, while the Monarchs can travel at nearly 540km/h and are planned for routes up to 800km.

An Ocean Flyer REGENT seaglider flying in Fiordland.
Photo credit: Ocean Flyer / REGENT

"This is a gamechanger for Kiwi travellers. Electric seagliders emit no carbon and are just as fast and comfortable as current aviation options," said Aslam.

"It will also open up options for communities which are currently under-serviced by existing operators, if they are even served at all. This is an extraordinary opportunity to bring competition and choice to Kiwi travellers while doing the right thing by the environment and communities."

The seagliders use existing battery technology and existing port infrastructure, Ocean Flyer said. The vehicles make use of the 'wing-in-ground-effect (WIG)', beginning each journey with the hull in the water, rising onto foils as the speed increases before eventually generating lift so it begins to fly in-ground-effect at about 10m above the water. 

Economy interior of an Ocean Flyer REGENT seaglider.
Photo credit: Ocean Flyer / REGENT

REGENT said it is developing the seagliders with a team of MIT-trained, ex-Boeing engineers, planning to bring them to market by 2025. The company is backed by Thiel Capital, Mark Cuban and Fitbit founder James Park, among others. 

Thiel is a venture capitalist with New Zealand citizenship who co-founded PayPal with Elon Musk and others, was an early Facebook investor and infamously helped Hulk Hogan bankrupt Gawker Media. He went on to become a prominent Donald Trump campaign funder is now the "key financier of the Make America Great Again movement", according to the New York Times.

The Times reports Thiel is one of the largest individual donors of the US Republican party in the current 2022 midterm election cycle, in which he is supporting "hard-right candidates who traffic in the conspiracy theories espoused by Mr Trump".

Ocean Flyer is REGENT's launch partner in the Southern Hemisphere. Its deal takes REGENT's commercial sales book to over NZ$8 billion, with other partners including Europe's Brittany Ferries.