Tallinn University of Technology

‘Autonomous flying ships for inter-island and inland waters transport’ – this is the exciting title of the recently launched international research and development project AIRSHIP.

Tallinn sadam meri foto Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

Ulla Pirita Tapaninen, professor at the Estonian Maritime Academy of Tallinn University of Technology, who is working on the topic in Estonia, told Novaator in an interview that it is not impossible that ‘flying ships’, also known as ekranoplans, could also be seen travelling between Estonia and Finland in the future due to the green transition.

So, what are those ‘flying ships’? They are called ground-effect vehicles, ekranoplans, or WIGs. They fly over a sea or lake at a height of a few metres, taking advantage of the surface effect.

SEE what an ekranoplan looks like (one version).

‘With current ship technology, the best way to save fuel and the environment is to slow down, but there are a huge number of new technologies and fuels on the table. We are on the verge of an incredibly interesting transition. It is no wonder that the European Union is also funding a project such as the ekranoplan, especially as it is a completely different technology now than it was in the 1990s – from engine control technology to artificial intelligence,’ Tapaninen added.

However, according to the professor, the four-year EU project does not mean that at the end of it, the ekranoplan will be ready for use. ‘This is a baseline study,’ added Tapaninen, whose task in the project is carrying out cost-benefit calculations, i.e. how business models work in water transport. Aeronautical and other technological know-how comes from other partners, such as Tampere University in Finland.

While a giant ekranoplan that could even carry trucks is not entirely science fiction, it is worth basing the research on our needs. ‘Traffic between Estonia and Finland will not become much faster. Lorries are rarely in a big enough hurry to require a connection quicker than the current one,’ says Tapaninen.

Read more on the science portal Novaator.