One year after introducing a line of one-engine aircraft to the Cortez Municipal Airport, Boutique Air has increased its use of two-engine airplanes.
When Boutique first started flying out of the Cortez airport in October 2016, it had two two-engine King Air 350 planes in its fleet, but did not use them in Cortez, instead relying on the one-engine Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. The company has since added two King Airs to its fleet and started using the two-engine craft for more Cortez flights, according to airport manager Russ Machen. By October 2017, almost 80 percent of all Cortez flights were performed by King Airs.
When the Cortez City Council first considered Boutique’s bid for air service in 2016, some Cortez residents said they were concerned that the company’s one-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.”
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.
Boutique CEO Shawn Simpson said the extra space was the main reason his company decided to switch to the two-engine planes for Cortez flights.
“Cortez, because it’s a popular option for people, seemed to be a good place to put the King Airs,” he said.
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. They have since taken over the majority of flights.
“We’ve had a shift toward the King Air as our bulk supplier,” Machen said.
According to Boutique data analyst Tom O’Hara, the two-engine craft performed between 78 and 82 percent of flights from July to September, before dipping to 64 percent in October. That dip was partly caused by several planes experiencing mechanical problems all at once, which caused some cancellations and delays, Machen said. Simpson said the timing of the problems resulted from a combination of “bad luck” and poor planning on the airline’s part, and that the King Airs are just as reliable as the Pilatus planes.
Simpson and Machen said the switch to King Airs has been good for both the airport and the airline, allowing them to meet what Simpson called an ongoing demand for Cortez flights.
Machen said the number of flights from the airport fell since Boutique raised its ticket prices in August and reached a low of less than 600 in October. But he said the number of tickets sold at the airport over the entire year is still nearly double what it was at this time last year. He expects ticket sales to go up again for the holidays, especially since Boutique’s prices have gone down since the summer, when the most expensive ones could be more than $300. Fares are currently set at a flat rate of between $89 and $249, according to O’Hara, depending on how many seats are available on a given flight. Simpson said Cortez continues to be one of Boutique’s busiest airports.