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Startup Connect Airlines Struggles To Complete Certification
Massachusetts-based Connect Airlines announced on Saturday it is struggling to complete Federal Aviation Administration certification, pushing its operations launch back by at least a month. The carrier is struggling to complete the proving flights it needs to get its full approval to launch flights.
Connect Airlines has been in and out of the news for a while. It plans to launch flights from northwestern United States cities to Toronto’s Billy Bishop International Airport on a fleet of Bombardier Dash 8 turboprop aircraft.
Connect, FAA Argue Over Airline’s Viability
Connect Airlines was initially required to begin flights this month per its FAA-issued interstate and foreign operation authorizations. Due to this road bump, though, it has sent in a request to the Department of Transportation (DOT) to extend this deadline until October 5.
“It does not appear that Connect Airlines has made satisfactory progress toward obtaining FAA authority,” the Department of Transportation wrote in response. “The FAA notified the department that the proposed airline’s proving flights were terminated. Connect Airlines must provide adequate evidence that it still meets the department’s fitness criteria and that the applicant is making satisfactory progress in obtaining the required safety authority from the FAA.”
Though the FAA issued Connect a stark judgment, the company’s Director of Public Affairs, Scott Brownrigg, told FlightGlobal that the company is still operating its proving flights and is on pace to finish the certification. Brownrigg added that the airline is working alongside the FAA as part of the certification process and is even on the verge of a final FAA review. Additional proving flights should be completed this summer.
“There is an error in the DOT letter, as Connect’s certification process is continuing,” he says. “We continue to work with the FAA and as part of the normal certification process. They will be doing final manual reviews very shortly.”
“All along, we have been working with the FAA to ensure we demonstrate all safety performance standards,” he added.
“Connect has diligently prosecuted its FAA application since the department issued its certificates,” an attorney representing Connect wrote in the airline’s certification extension request last month. “This process has been unusually complicated given Connect’s desire to operate interstate, flag, and supplemental services. Accordingly, Connect’s request for additional time to make its certificate effective is well founded.”
Regardless of its status with the FAA, Connect Airlines needs to finish this same certification process with Transport Canada to be able to operate flights into Canada as well. The DOT gave Connect Airlines until early August to prove it is making progress on certification, which would give the company time to get certified with Canada by September as originally required, but if the airline already has hiccups at home, it’s doubtful whether it will get certified abroad on time either.
Connect Airways’ Public Interest
The airline said that its public interest is founded in the added efficiency of turboprops, its ability to connect underserved communities, and the benefits of increased competition at Billy Bishop Airport. The company is a brand under the existing Waltzing Matilda Aviation, which operates Cessna, Bombardier, and Embraer jets around Bedford, Massachusetts.
It is unclear as to whether Connect Airways will ever expand beyond the Toronto market. The company will effectively act as an American company with an operating base in Canada if all of its flights go into and out of Toronto. While it might not have to face the hurdles of actually opening a base in Toronto, this is certainly a unique business model. Connect will likely focus on establishing itself in the Billy Bishop market before expanding onward, but it would be interesting to see the company competing in other small- and midsize markets as Avelo Airlines, Breeze Airways, and even Red Way do.
Other Potential Markets
Whenever Connect manages to get off the ground, there is certainly a market for it across different pockets of the United States. The last strongholds of turboprops in major American regional airlines are declining, leaving room for Connect to fill the holes that cannot use the jets that older Dash 8s are being replaced with.
If certified, Connect Airways will fill a gaping hole left by Porter Airlines. Porter currently uses Billy Bishop as its main Toronto airport, just as Southwest Airlines prioritizes Midway Airport instead of O’Hare in Chicago. However, Porter is upgrading its fleet from the Dash 8 to the Embraer E190 E2, which will make it impossible to maintain its current operation size at Billy Bishop. When Porter moves some flights to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Connect Airlines will be able to fill the gap left by Porter quite easily.
If Connect finds the current business model successful, there are other ways to continue expansion in other similar markets. It could, for example, expand into British Columbia on the Pacific coast. With connections from American Pacific Northwest cities such as Seattle, Portland, and more, the company would once again find a niche opened by the retirement of Horizon Air’s Dash 8s.
Like Porter, Horizon, which is Alaska Airlines’ wholly-owned regional subsidiary, effectively removed itself from a number of markets by eliminating the Dash 8 from its fleet. Though the airline will see benefits from better fleet continuity, Connect Airlines might have an easy time using its own Dash 8s to jump into some of the routes whose operational challenges, such as short runways and confined approaches, make jet flights difficult or impossible.
Other regional airlines do still fly turboprops in the United States. Silver Airways is well-known in the Florida region for the ATRs it uses across the southeastern United States. Empire Airlines in the Pacific Northwest uses turboprops as well, but it is primarily focused on cargo operations and lost its main passenger contract after the covid-19 pandemic hit.
Despite its current challenges, Connect Airways has big plans for the future. It currently has orders for up to 100 ATR aircraft converted to run on hydrogen fuel. The airline has a deal with Universal Hydrogen, which itself successfully flew a Bombardier Dash 8 on hydrogen in March, to convert 75 ATRs, with options for an additional 25 more. Deliveries are planned to start in 2025.
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