US start-up carrier Connect Airlines is railing against aviation regulators for allegedly stifling its ambitions of launching flights between Canada and the USA and decarbonising regional air travel with hydrogen propulsion technology.  

Chief executive John Thomas told FlightGlobal on 29 November that the certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration has been much-delayed and lacking transparency, and that regulators are now effectively blocking the carrier’s path to market. 

”The frustrating thing is that we have done everything required to get a [Part] 121 certificate,” he says. 

A Connect Airlines De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400

Source: Connect Airlines

Connect Airlines plans to operate De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400s between Canada and the USA 

Parent company Waltzing Matilda Aviation on 29 November filed a petition requesting the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to reconsider its 16 November decision to revoke Connect’s air carrier certificate due to dormancy. 

The company is requesting an extension of its dormancy waiver until 31 March, arguing that ”reconsideration is warranted because the order was based on an incorrect assessment of [Waltzing Matilda’s] FAA certification process”. 

The airline has for months maintained that the FAA has been issuing inaccurate updates on its progress in communications with the DOT. 

”Based upon these errors, the department again has raised the barriers to entry for start-up airlines, and specifically for a start-up airline with firm plans to become the first emission-free airline in North America,” the company says. 

The Bedford, Massachusetts-based company has been attempting to launch scheduled passenger service using De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400s, starting with routes from Philadelphia and Chicago to Billy Bishop Toronto City airport. 

But it is exceptionally difficult to secure a new air operator’s certificate (AOC) in the current regulatory climate, Thomas says. He points to Breeze Airways as the only successful applicant in recent years that did not acquire an existing certificate from another company. 

Thomas, a former executive with Virgin Australia, vented his frustration with the start-up’s stalled progress. 

“It’s unbecoming of a regulator that is meant to be leading the global aviation industry,” he says. “I’ve been in this industry for over 40 years and I’ve dealt with aviation regulators around the world, and I’ve got to say, I’ve scratched my head here.” 

The FAA declined to respond to Connect’s statements, saying, “We do not comment on ongoing certification projects.” 


Connect passed phase three of the FAA’s certification process, which involves approval of the carrier’s safety manuals, early in 2022 and progressed to proving flights, wrapping up those trials in February of this year. 

“Everyone was congratulatory on the proving grounds and then we just get crickets from the FAA,” Thomas says. “We got a formal briefing, finally, in the third week of March where they said there were some issues with our safety management system, some issues with our manuals.”

Those problems were addressed, Thomas says, adding that an FAA auditor determined after a two-day visit in May that the carrier’s safety management system “met all regulatory requirements”. 

Believing it was on a clear pathway to certification, Connect received a letter from the DOT in July saying the FAA had terminated the start-up’s proving flights – an assertion that Thomas calls “factually incorrect”, as the carrier had already completed those flights. 

”There is a procedure that the FAA needs to follow to terminate the certification process,” Waltzing Matilda says in its filing. ”That procedure has not occurred.” 

On 16 November, the DOT terminated the certificate of public convenience and necessity it issued in July 2022 to allow Connect to engage in interstate air transportation “for reasons of dormancy”. 

The DOT added at the time that it ”cannot allow applications to remain pending indefinitely, particularly where applicants are non-responsive to our requests for information”. 

Connect argues that the FAA is the unresponsive party. “Frankly, that’s what we’re experiencing here – a lack of transparency,” Thomas says.  

A Connect Airlines De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400

Source: Connect Airlines

Connect Airlines has been working closely with partner Universal Hydrogen on a long-term plan to decarbonise its fleet

The fledgling airline’s finances have also been called into question by regulators, as the DOT said in its revocation order that the airline “did not provide the required information necessary to support a positive financial fitness finding”. 

Thomas responds by asserting that Connect hasn’t had the opportunity to show proof of its financial stability. ”We haven’t even got to that process yet,” he says. ”We haven’t even had the chance to actually submit an AOC, [which] will include all of the requirements the DOT asked for.” 

Encountering long periods of silence from the FAA throughout the certification process has been most frustrating aspect of attempting to launch the airline, Thomas says. 

”Show us a little bit of respect here,” he says. ”I mean, where is the professional courtesy that the FAA is meant to be showing participants in the industry?”


The carrier has argued in its filings that its operations are in the public interest because it plans to drastically reduce carbon emissions with retrofitted turboprops through a partnership with Universal Hydrogen. 

In February 2022, Connect placed an order to convert 75 ATR 72s with Universal’s hydrogen propulsion systems, and purchase rights for an additional 25 conversions. The two companies have since been working “hand-in-glove” to cut emissions from regional air travel, Thomas says. 

“We are the only airline that has a tangible plan to decarbonise flights,” he says. ”We have a plan over the next 10 years that will actually reduce annual CO2 emissions by 5 million tonnes a year, and I would suggest that that is probably the largest single decarbonisation initiative in the global aviation industry today.” 

When it comes to Connect’s prospects for clearing certification and launching its envisioned operations, Thomas fears the airline’s arguments are falling largely on deaf ears. He hopes that “sanity prevails” as the carrier’s quest to launch regional air service continues into 2024. 

“Here is an administration that is adamant that it wants to have competition in the airline industry – obviously, they’re trying to stop JetBlue and Spirit,” Thomas says. “Do you know what’s the best way to encourage competition in the airline industry? Let in new entrants.”