Preparing for World Cup and Olympic Games: Rio de Janeiro Explores American Hovercraft Technology to Solve Transportation Woes!

While Brazil’s earlier efforts at providing hovercrafts to its travelling populace have always stopped at some point or the other, this time round the water transportation option seems to be bearing fruit in its second largest city – Rio de Janeiro. The fact that over 5,00,000 temporary visitors are expected to visit the city for the 2014 football World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games could be one of the reasons for the step.

Rio de Janeiro’s culture

Rio is a city rich in heritage… from the prominent display of “Christ the Redeemer” watching down on the city from its pedestal on top of Corcovado to its endless celebrations of life with the notorious Carnival symbolising the beginning of Lent, or the way the New Year is welcomed in along the shoreline with the traditional release of candles into the ocean as the past is let go and the new year is welcomed. It is a culture that respects its elders as the head of the family and their passion and allegiance is displayed on the football field.

Brazil in general, and its famous city Rio de Janeiro in perticular, are taking a proactive approach towards finding workable solutions to alleviate transportation congestion issues as they prepare for the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. One notable, but not new, solution being explored is that of Hovercraft passenger and cargo vehicles. Brazil has over 50,000 kilometres of navigable waterways but uses only 1% for commercial marine transportation. Jacksonville based AquaTerra has been working with key transportation experts in Rio for more than a year to come up with a viable solution to meet the city’s transportation needs.

The result? A state-of-the-art water transportation vehicle capable of carrying more than 200 passengers or 300 tons of cargo for longer distances over open ocean waters. This vehicle will be faster, more comfortable and economical than ever before. Meant to supplement the current transportation options and not replace what is already in existence, hovercrafts will take Rio’s water transportation to the next level by providing an alternative solution to its traditional land transportation. Hovercrafts stand to change the scenery for the upcoming games forever.

Sights Set On The Land Of Samba

What has notably been known as the land of Samba, Rio de Janeiro to date has been associated with endless beaches and year round tropical climate. What many do not realise is that there is much more to Rio than meets the eye.

However, despite its rich traditions and beautiful scenery, Rio is also a city wrought with a growing transportation congestion problem. With the rapid rise of lower class residents to middle class status during President Lula’s reign, the sales of new automobiles too displayed a dramatic rise. A city desperate for new road expansions and routes is virtually landlocked and unable to provide addition land transportation solutions.

Rio’s overall transportation system comprises a myriad of intermodal solutions. The city of Rio is supported by an International Airport (Galileo) and Regional Airport (Santos Dumont) servicing more than 15,000 million visitors annually. Couple these visitors with Rio’s 6.5 million residents located within the city proper – an area of 1,182.3 square kilometres (456.5 sq m), and it is not difficult to visualise the mobility problems encountered daily.

A taxi ride from Galileao Airport to the areas of Ipanema and Copacabana may take one hour or more because the roads are shared by four different bus lines, three taxi service companies (Yellow taxi, private transport and private executive drivers) and more than four million cars on a daily basis. Plus, thousands of motorcycles weave in and out of traffic at high speed.

Apart from this, Rio comprises two major islands separated by the Guanabarra Bay. In order to connect the island of Rio de Janeiro and the municipalities across Guanabarra Bay, a toll bridge (Niteroi Bridge) was completed in 1985. However, this was only a temporary fix. The rise in oil production and the recent Pre-Salt oil findings by Petrobras have had their toll on the situation. The bridge traffic comes to a standstill during peak traffic times as more and more Cariocas (nickname for Rio residents) travel to Macae and other municipalities across the bay to work with Petrobras.

Assisting with the cross-bay traffic are two large fleet boats that carry 2000 passengers at a time. Large catamarans, these fleet boats are slow, take a great deal of time to load & unload and pose safety threats.

Rio does have a limited metro system – connecting the downtown district (Centro) to surrounding neighbouring areas in the city proper. However, this metro system does not feed the outlying communities like Barra di Tajuca, Rio’s youngest community and future location of the Olympic Village.

The hovercraft is a state-of-the-art water transportation vehicle capable of carrying more than 200 passengers or 300 tons of cargo for longer distances over open ocean waters

The recent Pre-Salt Oil findings have presented another transportation issue. Located more than 250km off the coast of Rio, these oil platforms face additional challenging issues – those of transporting employees and cargo efficiently over open ocean waters. Cargo ships require a great deal of time and their maneuverability is limited. Current helicopter transportation brings its own safety issues. Hence, the hovercraft technology is currently being explored as a viable solution.

Adding fuel to the fire in case of traffic woes is the fact that Brazil, and Rio in particular, will be hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games bringing more than 500,000 new temporary visitors and with them, traffic congestion. The gridlock that will take place during these games will be a challenging task.

Looking to the Future

In a proactive effort to get a handle on their transportation woes in time for the Games and after, Rio de Janeiro is looking at utilising hovercraft vessels. Several European companies, as a possible solution, introduced hovercraft technology to Rio unsuccessfully several years ago. After testing the craft on the open ocean waters, it was determined that the vessels being offered were not feasible with Brazil’s needs. The options did not handle the open waters smoothly and the fuel consumption would have pushed ticket prices out of the market.

In addition to the local transportation issues, the port of Brazil has indicated it has been overwhelmed with issues getting cargo boats unloaded and moved out fast enough. Many boats can be held up for 2-3 days – waiting for their turn to pull up for unloading. Hovercraft technology can offer an intermediate solution by allowing cargo to be unloaded from ships that are unable to pull into position and transferring that cargo to the port loading docks, thus providing a more productive and economical process for cargo processing.

Understanding what they are facing and the fact that something has to be done to move forward, Brazil has opened up to explore the hovercraft solution once again. The difference this time is that the new hovercraft technology is designed to provide a smoother, safer and faster ride while presenting options that promote low-ticket costs and sustainability. The hovercrafts being introduced to Rio have the capacity of transporting 200-300 passengers or over 200 tons of cargo at a time at speeds up to 60 miles per hour. This is being done by AquaTerra.

“The hovercraft’s new technological value is its fast, economical and environmentally safe operations,” says Kurt Peterson, CEO, AquaTerra. “The introduction of advanced technology, like the use of composite construction materials over conventional metal designs, provides key operational advantages. Composite materials reduce the weight of the hovercraft transferring more of the expended energy into transporting the payload versus moving the craft itself. This translates into fuel economy, lower maintenance costs and longer service life over metal constructed vessels.”

In addition to the composite framework, the new hovercraft technology includes a commercial vessel that utilises bio-diesel fuel to power the engines thereby reducing cost and significantly lowering emissions when compared with the conventional engines. The extensive use of computer control systems maximises the performance and efficiency, thus providing for a more maneuverable vessel that can turn on a dime.

The new hovercraft vessels will be operated completely off grid by utilising solar energy for electrical needs. Each vessel is equipped with zero-discharge sanitation systems designed to process waste to odourless vapour to be released into the air, and its own desalinisation system designed to convert ocean water into drinking water. Thus, there will be no need to tap into Rio’s electric or water supply for operation. The business model being introduced in Rio de Janeiro includes providing complete design and build, maintain & operate components, thus providing a vessel that will not become obsolete but rather continue to fill the water transportation needs for years to come.

DAVNA and AquaTerra have been working with the Brazilian government and private industries for more than one and a half years to promote this new hovercraft technology. Once commitments are obtained, the first of the AquaTerra fleet will be completed in Jacksonville, FL (it is currently 60% complete), while the Brazilian manufacturing facilities will be developed simultaneously. It is anticipated that the first vessel will be delivered early in 2013. Manufacturing facilities will be established before the end of 2012 with the first fleet of boats due to complete prior to the start of the FIFA Games in 2014.

Danna Olivo
(Danna Olivo is a Florida based internantional marketing and business development expert)

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