Boutique Air will begin direct flights from Cortez to Denver and Phoenix on Oct. 1.
The airline was awarded an Essential Air Service (EAS) bid from the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this month, airport manager Russ Machen said.
“Cortez went up on Boutique’s website today,” Machen said last week.
In May, the Cortez City Council endorsed Boutique Air’s bid to the Department of Transportation. The bid includes four daily flights – three to Denver and one to Phoenix. Boutique will serve the Cortez Airport with eight- and nine-seat Pilatus PC-12 planes.
The rate for a one-way flight to Denver from Cortez on Oct. 3 is $59, according to Boutique Air’s website. The rate for a one-way Oct. 3 flight to Phoenix is $69.
Essential Air Service is a subsidized U.S. program that seeks to guarantee airline service to small towns. San Francisco-based Boutique Air services mostly smaller airports throughout the western United States.
Boutique Air won the council’s confidence over Great Lakes Airlines, which has served Cortez for decades and has been the only airline to bid for the service for many years.
A 2014 FAA regulation increased the number of hours pilots needed for certification from 500 to 1,500. That law made recruiting pilots more difficult for Great Lakes Airlines, which forced the airline to cut service and cancel flights at the Cortez airport.
At a June 14 city council meeting, retired pilot Garth Greenlee called into question the safety of the PC-12, a single-engine plane. He said the plane wouldn’t be reliable flying over 14,000-foot peaks to Denver. If the plane’s engine were to fail, there would be no backup, he said.
Boutique Air CEO Shawn Simpson touted the “extreme reliability” of the PC-12, which has been in production by Switzerland-based Pilatus Aircraft since 1991.
“It’s a real runaway success airplane,” he told The Journal in July. “The PC-12 is reliable and efficient.”
Since March, Boutique Air has been operating two routes that fly over the Continental Divide, according to Simpson. Two daily flights travel from Vernal, Utah to Denver and back, according to the airline’s website. Boutique Air also offers twice-daily flights from Moab to Denver and back.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there have been 17 incidents or accidents involving the aircraft in the U.S. since 2002. Out of those, six resulted in a total of 29 fatal injuries to passengers or crew members, according to NTSB reports.
In the deadliest incident, 13 passengers and a pilot died in a March 2009 crash near Butte, Montana. That crash was attributed to ice in the fuel system and the pilot’s failure to control the left wing when landing, according to the NTSB. The pilot neglected to add an aircraft fuel-line antifreeze called Prist when fueling the plane before takeoff, according to a report from airfactsjournal.com. Additionally, the number of passengers on that flight exceeded the PC-12’s capacity, the report states.
Under EAS rules, municipalities can throw out airline bids that include only single-engine planes.
After 60 consecutive days of Boutique Air’s single-engine service to Cortez, the city no longer will be guaranteed twin-engine service. In June, city council members voted to authorize Mayor Karen Sheek to sign a letter waiving the city’s guarantee for twin-engine service. The city could endorse a twin-engine bid in the future, City Manager Shane Hale said.