The number of people flying from the Cortez Municipal Airport in 2015 was the lowest since at least the 1970s, according to the airport manager.
From almost 9,000 passengers in 2013, the number fell to just above 2,000 in 2015.
The airport is starting the year with more positive news, with the addition of a new 11:55 a.m. flight Sunday through Friday to Denver. It will start on Tuesday.
It is unknown if this new flight will be seasonal or year round, said Airport Manager Russ Machen.
The new flight will bring the airport’s offerings to three outbound flights a day Sunday through Friday.
The airport offers one morning flight to Denver each Saturday.
The airport has been hit hard in 2014 by a federal law that increased the number of hours pilots are required to have to be certified from 500 to 1,500 hours, Machen said.
This new requirement forced Great Lakes Airlines, the only regional airline in the area, to cut pilots and service to Cortez.
“We lost consumer confidence,” Machen said.
With cuts in service, came a slide in revenue for the airport because it relies on landing fees, rental car fees, passenger fees and fuel sales among other services.
“All those things factor into the loss of tens of thousands,” he said.
In 2016, the airport expects to spend $40,000 to $45,000 from reserves. But this number could change if the airport received a grant and more flights were offered.
The airline applied for an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration from the flight-hours rule. But although the 90-day response time has passed, a decision has not been made,
“If they do get an exemption things will improve dramatically,” Machen said.
Since the pilot shortage started, the airline did get a waiver to remove 10 seats from it’s 19-seat planes. The 19-seat planes required two pilots. But in a nine-seat plane, one pilot can train the other.
“They are training pilots in the right-hand seat to try to build up their hours over time,” he said.
But it’s a slow process.
To help deal with the budget woes, the airport sold two hangars that had been under a 25-year lease and reverted back to airport ownership.
The sale of the hangars raised a little under $60,000 for the airport that could be used as a matching funds for a federal or state grant, Machen said.