On paper, Ground Effect Vehicles and WIG’s offer many advantages over traditional seacrafts often raising the question of why they are so uncommon or what practical issues are preventing acceptance.
The first part of this question is where exactly these crafts will be used and what they will likely be replacing. Most commercial GEF and WIG vehicles currently being pitched are aimed at short-medium trips between 20-200 nautical miles in protected or semi-protected water. Common examples of these are routes serviced by ferries and small island hopping sea-planes.
The advantages compared to sea-planes and small ferries include:
- Ability to travel at high speeds ~80 knots compared to ~20 knots of a similar size modern ferry which can turn a half-day journey into a small less than hour trip
- Increased comfort due to flying above the waves, the likelihood of seasickness is reduced
- Ability to carry heavy cargo similar to that of a boat (relative to size) compared to conventional light aircraft
- Increased fuel efficiency and environmental impact compared to a boat or light aircraft
- Considered by many regulators as seacraft, not aircraft requiring as extensive certification and operations compared to aircraft
While these points sound great these crafts do have some major limitations
- Due to operating on or close to the water, they can only operate in sheltered water
- Limited manoeuvrability can be an issue in busy waterways such as in Asia or where there are many obstacles
- Often requires purpose-built infrastructure to safely board and disembark due to the low-wing design making it challenging to pull up to a wharf compared to high-wing seaplanes and ferries
- Potentially expensive maintenance due to the harsh marine environments
- High fatigue to fly due to operating at low altitudes, new autopilot technologies may reduce this
- Very niche and unproven disruptive option compared to conventional transport offerings making it a riskier option to sell to investors.
Most of these obstacles can be overcome however significant investment is required from a manufacturer to bring a reliable commercial craft to market and support it until it has been adopted. Equally as challenging is finding sizeable customers to invest in an unproven product despite proven conventional offerings. Many have embarked down this path even designing flightworthy prototypes but unable to get adoption and make the idea profitable.
Outside of niche cases Ground Effect Craft appear limited to the history books and small-scale craft created by adventurous hobbyists.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below