A local firm's dream of operating a fleet of all-electric "seagliders" around New Zealand is a step closer after a successful test flight in the US.
Regent, a Boston-based startup backed by billionaires Mark Cuban and Peter Thiel, is developing the seaglider, which it hopes will enter commercial service around 2025.
Regent's seagliders will be what are known as "wing-in-ground effect" vehicles - flying no higher than the length of the glider's wingspan above the water.
They are designed to travel up to 800km at speed of up to 540km/h.
Napier-based Ocean Flyer, registered in April, told the Herald it is trying to raise $700 million, plus $100m in working capital, to buy 25 seagliders from Regent: 15 of its Viceroy model, which will fly 12 passengers in its final version - a one-quarter scale Viceroy prototype made the maiden flight - and 10 100-seater Regent "Monarchs".
Ocean Flyer is owned by Shah Aslam, 32, who also owns Air Napier.
Aslam earlier told the Herald: "This is a game-changer for Kiwi travellers. Electric seagliders emit no carbon and are just as fast and comfortable as current aviation options."
He said seagliders would be able to travel between Wellington and Christchurch in an hour for just $60 a seat, or between Auckland and Whangarei in 30 minutes for $30.
Aslam told the Herald this morning that his firm had paid a deposit on its Regent aircraft. He said his company was getting close to finalising the "second tranche" of its $800m raise. More details would be available in a couple of months.
The entrepreneur expects Regent to stage a test flight of a full-scale Viceroy next year.
• Read more about Ocean Flyer in the Herald's profile here.
Kitty Hawk winds down
Meanwhile, another US-based electric plane startup has thrown in the towel.
Kittyhawk, backed by Google co-founder Larry Page announced early today that it was winding down.
The US startup hit headlines in 2018 as it started trialling its all-electric, pilotless Cora "air taxi" at an airfield near Christchurch.
Kittyhawk and Boeing formed a joint-venture the following year, called Wisk Aero, to further develop the Cora.
But Boeing said this morning that Wisk will continue without Kittyhawk.
Boeing said Kittyhawk's decision won't affect Wisk Aero.
"Kittyhawk's decision to cease operations does not change Boeing's commitment to Wisk," the aerospace giant said.
"We are proud to be a founding member of Wisk Aero and are excited to see the work they are doing to drive innovation and sustainability through the future of electric air travel," a Boeing spokesperson said.
"We do not expect Kittyhawk's announcement to affect Wisk's operations or other activities in any way."
Kittyhawk had no immediate elaboration on its reason for winding down, but TechCrunch noted a growing field of competitors. And the venture capital scene has shifted from hot to chilly over the past few months on recession fears, rising rates and tech shares under pressure.
Boeing put a further US$450m into Wisk, which operates in San Francisco and Christchurch, in January this year.
The NZ Government is providing regulatory support for its operations in Canterbury.
Wisk staged its first public test flight in April last year.