Rumours of the potential return of Solent Express to Hovertravel’s cross-Solent service after 9 years have been fuelled this week by the arrival of the sizeable craft on the pad at Ryde – and it’s appearance on an official app.
The company have neither confirmed nor denied that the 2007-built BHT-130 hovercraft will be making a return to the Ryde-Southsea route in the near future, but there are plenty of indications it might.
Solent Express was pulled from service in October 2011 following a major prop shaft failure mid-Solent. Since then, the craft has been laid up in Southampton with sister company Griffon Hoverwork and has completed only occasional sea trials. It has been up for sale and remains listed.
However, it was just a couple of weeks ago that Griffon announced through Twitter that the craft was back on the water and had been inspected by the Maritime Coastguard Agency. This tweet was quickly deleted and replaced by a similar tweet, which omitted mention of the MCA.
Solent Express has been seen back on the pad at Ryde this week for a refuel, which isn’t too unusual for trials in the Solent. But eagle-eyed customers have noted that the much-loved craft has also appeared on Hovertravel’s official mobile map. The map shows the position of each service craft and given that Solent Express hasn’t been part of the fleet for 9 years, potentially nods towards her return to passenger duties.
Regular customers have been calling for the return of the BHT-130 for sometime as it is thought of as being more reliable and resilient than the newer Flyer craft. Whilst it is thirsty on fuel and is less ‘green’ than its newer counterparts, it can cope in rougher conditions with all-important bow thrusters. It can also carry 130 passengers – which even at limited capacity would allow for a large number of passengers per flight whilst maintaining social distancing.
Island Echo approached Hovertravel for a statement asking whether or not Solent Express will be making a return to the company. The response does not address the matter, but does confirm that Solent Express re-fuelled earlier this week.
A spokesperson for Hovertravel has said:
“Hovertravel can confirm that at 11:30 on Thursday 5th November a hovercraft owned by Griffon Hoverwork GH-2142 (Solent Express) landed at Ryde to re-fuel, while undertaking a number of sea trials. The 85-tonne hovercraft then returned to Griffon’s factory in Woolston”.
With unconfirmed rumours of Wightlink suspending their catamaran service during the lockdown period and passengers returning to the 10-minute Hovertravel service, a return of Solent Express after nearly a decade could be a wise move in the winter months. Wightlink say their service is being constantly reviewed at this time.
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