New U.S. scheduled carrier Connect Airlines says it will convert its fleet of used Dash 8-300 twin turboprops to hydrogen power by 2025. Under a letter of intent signed on November 8, the operator committed to buying 12 of Universal Hydrogen’s in-development conversion kits and holds options to refit 12 more of the aircraft.
Boston-based Connect intends to launch commercial services in the spring of 2022 with a pair of 70-seat Dash 8 Q400 aircraft leased from Chorus, initially offering flights out of Toronto’s downtown Billy Bishop Airport to cities including Philadelphia and Chicago; after that, it plans to expand its network to such cities as Detroit, Cincinnati, and Charlotte, North Carolina. It claims the switch to hydrogen will make it the first zero-emission U.S.-based airline and is rebranding the converted 50-seat Dash 8-300, which went out of production in 2009, as the “GreenJet.”
Universal Hydrogen is working to convert the Dash 8 and ATR 42 and 72 commuter airliner families and aims to have a supplemental type certificate approved by the FAA in time for service entry in 2025. Other airlines have agreed to convert aircraft using the California-based start-up’s package, which includes pre-fueled capsules installed in the rear of the fuselage and hydrogen fuel cells. These include Icelandair, Air Nostrum, Ravn Alaska, and ASL Aviation.
Connect is a subsidiary of Part 135 business jet charter operator Waltzing Matilda Aviation and is in the process of adding FAA’s Part 121 approval to its air operator certificate. The deal with Universal Hydrogen also covers the supply of green hydrogen to the new airline. In October, Waltzing Matilda was one of several investors that backed a $62 million funding round for the hydrogen propulsion pioneer, which has now raised more than $85 million.
According to Universal Hydrogen, the converted aircraft will reduce fuel consumption and, overall, will have a 35 percent smaller carbon footprint than the original models. Connect says it will transition to “true zero-emission operation” after converting the aircraft but has not explained what further steps this will entail.
“The U.S. is a laggard in its decarbonization efforts, and the U.S. aviation industry is no exception,” commented Universal Hydrogen co-founder and CEO Paul Eremenko. “That is why the bold step that Connect Airlines is making in being the first airline to commit to true zero-emissions operation in the relatively near term is so monumentally important.