“We are building Connect Airlines from the ground up as a smarter, more sustainable travel option for North American travelers,” said John Thomas, CEO, Connect Airlines. “We have committed to being the world’s first true zero-emission airline and the only way to accomplish this in the near term is with hydrogen.” Today at the UP.Summit, an annual gathering of leaders in air transport innovation hosted by venture capital firm UP.Partners, Universal Hydrogen Co. and Connect Airlines, a division of Waltzing Matilda Aviation, announced that the airline has placed a firm order to convert 75 ATR 72-600 regional airplanes to hydrogen powertrains, with purchase rights for an additional 25 conversions. Deliveries will start in 2025. The agreement follows an initial letter of intent (LOI) between the companies announced in 2021.
“This order places Connect firmly in the vanguard of the march to get aviation on a path to meeting Paris Agreement emissions targets,” said Paul Eremenko, co-founder and CEO of Universal Hydrogen. “This march will very soon need to turn into a sprint if the industry has any hope of decarbonizing in time without having to curtail the growth in passenger volumes. We will need to convert most of the regional fleet in the 2020s and ensure that the new narrowbody aircraft built in the 2030s are hydrogen-powered—there is no other way to get there.”
In addition to a hydrogen conversion kit for the ATR 72-600, the most popular in-production regional turboprop on the market, Universal Hydrogen offers hydrogen fuel services to airports using a modular capsule technology that enables the transport and handling of hydrogen using the existing intermodal freight network and cargo handling equipment. This eliminates the need for costly and lengthy airport infrastructure upgrades and makes nearly every airport in the world hydrogen-ready. As part of today’s agreement, Universal Hydrogen will provide fuel services to the Connect fleet enabling operating unit economics that are equivalent or better than those of hydrocarbon-powered ATR 72s from the very first delivery in 2025.
“We see the partnership with Universal Hydrogen as the fastest path to zero-emission operation because they offer both an affordable retrofit solution for the existing airplane fleet, as well as a pragmatic approach to delivering hydrogen to any airport in our route network,” said Thomas. “With this technology and its economics, we easily anticipate our appetite growing to over 800 airplanes in this class to support the growth of our route network across North America.”