Connect Airlines Wants To Be America’s First Zero Emission Airline

Upcoming carrier Connect Airlines has launched a Project Zero. Through retrofitting as many as two dozen regional turboprop aircraft with hydrogen fuel cells, it hopes to become the first zero-emissions airline in North America by 2025. The airline, looking to commence operations next year, has signed a letter of intent with startup Universal Hydrogen for conversion kits, along with long-term green hydrogen supply.

Connect Airlines is set to launch in 2022 – and intends to operate hydrogen-powered passenger flights with retrofitted Dash 8 aircraft as soon as 2025. Photo: De Havilland Aircraft of Canada

Zero emissions by 2025

Proposed North American startup carrier Connect Airlines intends to operate flights out of the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) to cities in the midwest and the northeast US. It also wants to become the world’s first zero-emissions airline.

Connect Airlines is backed by Waltzing Matilda Aviation and is currently in the final stages of its Department of Transportation certification process. It plans to commence service in 2022. Meanwhile, through what it has dubbed ‘Project Zero’, the newcomer hopes to operate zero-emission regional aircraft across North America by 2025.

In order to accomplish this, Connect has signed a letter of intent with Universal Hydrogen, founded in 2020. The airline has committed to purchasing 24 of Universal’s green hydrogen conversion kits. These include a firm order for 12  De Havilland Canada DHC 8-300 kits and as many purchase rights for kits for different aircraft.

“Connect Airlines flies smarter, that’s why we’re excited to partner with Universal Hydrogen to pursue our goal of being the first zero-emission airline in the United States. In addition to this LOI, we were pleased to participate in Universal Hydrogen’s recent $62 million financing round,” said John Thomas, CEO, Connect Airlines.

Universal Hydrogen will supply conversion kits with modular capsule approaches to Connect, as well as green hydrogen to power the planes. Photo: Getty Images

Modular capsule approach

The conversion kits consist of a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain. These will be compatible with Universal’s modular capsule approach to hydrogen storage and logistics. The company will also supply green hydrogen to Connect to power its fleet under a long-term agreement.

The two startups have now officially thrown down the gauntlet when it comes to being first in the US to operate hydrogen-powered regional flights. Earlier this fall, Alaska Airlines announced a partnership with ZeroAvia to equip Dash 8-400s with the hydrogen fuel-cell provider’s powertrains. However, that timeline is set for 2026.

Both ‘teams’, if you will, are opting to retrofit existing airframes rather than wait for newer, hydrogen-specific designs in order to accelerate certification and adaptation.

The race is on with Alaska Airlines and ZeroAvia for the first North American zero-emissions flight. Photo: Alaska Air Group

First US carrier to YTZ

Connect Airlines was first mentioned publicly in April this year and intends to be the first US carrier into Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport. It will begin operations with De Havilland Dash 8-400s. The carrier says it is addressing turboprop pilot shortage issues by hiring both Canadians and Americans. However, it has faced some scrutiny for its practices from the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

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