*Editor’s Note: Clarification — The photo that accompanied the Feb. 6, print edition on the front page of the Alliance Times-Herald is the Boutique Air aircraft the airline brought to the Alliance Airport (and pictured there) for an open house and ribbon cutting event in the summer of 2015.
The Alliance City Council at Tuesday's (Feb. 5) meeting voted 4 to 1, with Council member Earl Jones voting against, to authorize the recommendation of Denver Air Connection to the Department of Transportation to provide Essential Air Service for Alliance. This will be a two-year award for the service.
The airline is one of two to bid on the contract — the other is the current carrier, Boutique Air. The existing four-year EAS service expires in May 2019.
Denver Air connection, a Key Lime Air Company, bid a 9-seat configuration of a Metroliner aircraft. Boutique, bidding the same 8-9-seat configuration, has served Alliance for nearly four years with the Pilatus PC-12, a single-engine turboprop with an eight- or nine-seat configuration.
The competitors both bid two- and four-year EAS contracts connecting Alliance to Denver International Airport west of that city in Colorado.
Boutique Air CEO Shawn Simpson, in a telephone interview with the Times-Herald Monday (Feb. 4), described the airline’s role in Alliance (and the Panhandle with flights from Chadron also connecting to Alliance and DIA), statistics since flights began here in summer 2015 and proposed schedule changes if the contract were to be renewed.
From 2001 to 2014, enplanements at Alliance peaked in 2007 at 2,010. Several factors led to a significant decline from 1,426 in 2013 to 472 a year later under Great Lakes. Boutique posted 1,474 enplanements their first year in the community (2015) increasing passenger numbers each of the next two years — 2,139 in 2016 and 2,460 for 2017. Numbers for 2018 were listed as “pending” on Boutique’s website.
Denver is one of Boutique’s hubs (see map accompanying this article) along with Dallas/Fort Worth, or “centers of gravity,” Simpson said. He cited the airline's safety record in comparison to Denver Air Connection over the time frame Boutique has been in Alliance, and its partnerships with major international carriers. Simpson noted his company is a codeshare partner of United Airlines. Simpson explained Boutique also recently became an “interline” carrier with American Airlines, which includes checked baggage transfer. Both levels of cooperation include single itinerary purchase options. Simpson explained, “We can interline with anyone.”
Denver Air currently connects to Riverton and Sheridan, Wyo., and Grand Junction, Colo., from DIA and Centennial Airport, a smaller Denver metro area location.
Simpson related positive comments from Panhandle passengers, explaining that proposed schedule changes reflect this feedback. Now, one plane serves the Chadron-Alliance-DIA route, over nighted at Chadron. If adopted the modified departures and arrivals at Alliance would be via a second plane over nighted here with mid-day flights added to the 12 round trips presently available. Simpson said the plan is to roll out the new format on March 1. Other changes would help accommodate connecting flights at DIA with arrivals into Alliance proposed at 7:10 p.m. (about an hour and a half later) and earlier morning departures from Alliance.
In the past four or five years Boutique has expanded in EAS communities while losing a few other routes to competing carriers with larger planes. Simpson said the pilot requirements that affected Great Lakes applies to aircraft with 10 or more passengers, not the planes flying from Alliance. Denver Air Connection is part of the Charter Alliance Group LLC that has targeted the business traveler market marketing convenience of “a chartered aircraft at or below airline prices,” as stated on the airline’s website.
The Alliance City Council vote, pending DOT approval, set passenger air service through 2021 following improved enplanement numbers since the last transition in 2015.