Saturday, December 02, 2017

Boutique Air moves toward twin-turboprop aircraft in Cortez, Colorado: Airline reduces number of single-engine turboprop flights

One year after introducing a line of single-engine aircraft to the Cortez Municipal Airport, Boutique Air has increased its use of twin-engine airplanes.

When Boutique first started flying out of the Cortez airport in October 2016, it had two twin-engine King Air 350 planes in its fleet, but did not use them in Cortez, instead relying on the single-engine turboprop Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. The company started using the twin-engine craft for some Cortez flights toward the end of the year, according to airport manager Russ Machen, and by October of 2017, about 80 percent of all Cortez flights were performed by King Airs. The company also recently added two new King Airs to its fleet.

When the Cortez City Council first considered Boutique’s bid for air service in 2016, some Cortez residents said they were concerned the company’s single-engine aircraft might not be safe. Machen said the model has an excellent safety record, which includes use by air ambulance companies, but he has expressed a different concern about the Pilatus planes to Boutique. They don’t always have enough space for passengers’ baggage, he said.

“You’ve got a lot of hunters coming in with guns, and when they go back out, they’re going to have a cooler full of meat,” he said. “You load, during ski season, five, six, seven people and their ski equipment and whatnot, you could also have a problem there.”

Right now, the airline’s policy is to put bags that don’t fit on an airplane on a later flight to the same destination. But the King Air planes have more room, not only for baggage but also for passengers.

While Pilatus airplanes have the capacity to seat nine people, most of the ones in Boutique’s fleet have replaced the ninth seat with a restroom. The King Airs have enough room for both a ninth seat and a restroom.

In late fall of 2016 and early spring of 2017, Machen said, about 25 percent of flights from the Cortez airport were on King Airs. Starting in April, that number had grown to almost 70 percent. From July through September, 80 percent of the flights were on King Airs, although they decreased slightly in October.

“We’ve had a shift toward the King Air as our bulk supplier,” Machen said.

Although he said this is primarily a good thing for the airport, it did cause trouble in recent weeks, when some of the King Air planes experienced mechanical problems that resulted in long delays. Because the fleet contains only four King Airs, Machen said it’s harder to find replacements when one is in the shop.

The number of flights from Cortez has gone down since Boutique raised its ticket prices in August, reaching a low of less than 600 in October. But Machen said the number of tickets sold at the airport over the entire year is still nearly double what it was this time last year. He expects ticket sales to go up again for the holidays, especially since Boutique’s prices have gone down again recently.

In his presentation to council during the Nov. 14 budget hearings, Machen said the airport has received record high numbers in revenue this year, although it has also experienced higher maintenance expenses. Still, he expects the 2018 budget to be mostly a “carbon copy” of this year’s.

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