On 11 July 2016 Hovertravel’s two new state-of-the-art passenger hovercraft were named by Sir Ben Ainslie CBE  as part of a traditional dedication and blessing ceremony conducted at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, reports Andrew Cooke.

The new craft, Solent Flyer and Island Flyer, are both liveried with a representation of the union flag which combines red, blue and the white background of the craft to create a traditional look with a contemporary feel.

Hovertravel’s new craft are innovative designs which combine enhanced ergonomics alongside weight and energy efficiencies. The £10 million investment will improve passenger comfort through speedier and easier boarding, a quieter ride and better visibility.

Hovertravel celebrated its 50th year of operation in 2015 while operating a pair of AP-188 hovercraft that were built on the Isle of Wight in the 1980s (Island Express) and 1990 (Freedom 90).

In 2014 Griffon Hoverwork, based at Woolston, Southampton, began construction of a ground-breaking new model of passenger hovercraft called the 12000TD. A new passenger variant had not been produced in over a decade.

Sir Ben Ainslie said, “The Hovercraft was a revolution in sea travel and has become a real iconic British invention. It’s great to see these two new innovative vessels continue to show off the strength of the British marine industry right now. While out training on our development boats, we often ‘fly by’ each other during their trips from the mainland to the Isle of Wight –  in addition, since moving to the Island recently, it is also an extremely fast and reliable way to travel.”

The new craft is the most technically advanced and modern hovercraft available , offering better fuel efficiency, low emissions and significantly less noise. The 22.4m craft is powered by two MAN D2862 diesel engines that provide integrated lift and forward thrust. The craft is capable of carrying 80 passengers or 12 tons of cargo whilst achieving a top speed of 50 knots.

The present AP-188 craft have four engines whereas the 12000TD has half that number resulting in significate improvements in noise levels and fuel savings of up to a third. The in-passenger cabin noise of the 12000TD is an average of 74db, equivalent to office noise.

The passenger area, brighter thanks to larger windows, is accessed through watertight doors at the front on either side of the craft, the starboard side door offering ramped access and the port side providing steps.

This system echoes the front access on the SRN6 craft and permits quicker and easier boarding of passengers and light cargo, providing a quicker turn-around time. The design allows bicycles, wheelchairs and suitcases to go straight inside the craft thus doing away with the use of external panniers like on the AP-188s.

In the next month Solent Flyer will be used on an ad hoc basis to service the Hovertravel timetable.  This phased strategy of implementation allows the teams at Hovertravel to gradually introduce the new procedures and policies associated with the new craft without disrupting the daily operation.

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