This Airline Aims to Fly People Around in a Hydrogen-Propelled Plane as Soon as 2025
Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

This Airline Aims to Fly People Around in a Hydrogen-Propelled Plane as Soon as 2025

Connect Airlines hopes to start flying passengers around in a hydrogen-powered plane as soon as 2025, thanks to a deal announced this week with Hawthorne-based Universal Hydrogen.

The Boston-based airline has yet to launch, but it intends to kick off regular service between Toronto, the Northeast and the Midwest starting this spring — for now using jet fuel. Connect Airlines is one of several to sign a letter of intent to buy hydrogen conversion kits in the coming years from Universal Hydrogen, joining Icelandair, Air Nostrum (in Spain), and Ravn Alaska.

Universal Hydrogen plans to begin installations of its hydrogen-electric powertrain kits in the next three to four years, pending regulatory approval. The startup is designing its kits for planes that would otherwise guzzle down jet fuel.

Connect Airlines aims to launch hydrogen-propelled flights within the year, the company told dot.LA. So far, Universal Hydrogen’s other partners have offered few specifics on their launch plans.

As the aviation industry looks for ways to slash its carbon footprint, hydrogen has emerged as a top contender to supplant jet fuel. Hydrogen is clean-burning and vastly lighter than batteries, potentially making it ideal for air travel. Hydrogen has downsides, too. It’s more expensive than jet fuel today, and clean hydrogen produced via renewable energy is relatively scarce.

All told, it could be decades before hydrogen-powered planes go mainstream.

Airbus aims to deliver a hydrogen plane by 2035, while Boeing is looking out as far as 2050 for larger aircraft. The Aerospace Technology Institute, a U.K. research group, recently said it expects to see hydrogen planes in the mid-2030s.

Universal Hydrogen is an early mover, but it isn’t the only one.

U.K. and Hollister, Calif.-based ZeroAvia is also working with airlines to launch hydrogen-powered passenger flights, starting with London and Rotterdam as soon as 2024.

In addition to making the kits, Universal Hydrogen says it will also supply airlines with green hydrogen fuel. It raised $62 million in October to move ahead with its plans, which include test flights beginning next year.

Connect Airlines’ owner and a number of others participated in the funding round, including Mitsubishi HC Capital, Tencent, Marc Benioff's TIME Ventures and Spencer Rascoff's 75 and Sunny Ventures. (Full disclosure: Rascoff is the founder and executive chairman of dot.LA.)

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Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.
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