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Boutique Air CEO stands by airline’s safety

Simpson touts single-engine Pilatus’ safety record
A Swiss Air Force Pilatus PC-12 lands in Gloucestershire, England, in 2006.

Boutique Air CEO Shawn Simpson on Friday heralded the “extreme reliability” of the Pilatus PC-12 single-engine aircraft — the plane his company uses – to fly passengers to almost all of the 23 destinations Boutique serves.

“It’s a real runaway success airplane,” Simpson said. “The PC-12 is reliable and efficient.”

The Cortez City Council in May endorsed San Francisco-based Boutique Air’s Essential Air Service (EAS) bid to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which will award the bid. Boutique’s proposal includes three Denver flights and one Phoenix flight, though the Department of Transportation could opt for another flight configuration, according to airport manager Russ Machen. Essential Air Service is a subsidized U.S. program that seeks to guarantee airline service to small towns.

The city’s endorsement of a bid that included the single-engine PC-12 drew concerns from local pilot Garth Greenlee, who spoke at the council’s June 14 meeting. Greenlee told council members they were making a “terrible mistake” by endorsing Boutique Air because of its single-engine plane. He said he doubted the plane’s ability to withstand frigid weather and harsh conditions while flying over 14,000-foot peaks en route to Denver.

Simpson, though, refuted those concerns. The PC-12 is manufactured in Switzerland – a country covered with high mountains — and is built for all weather conditions, he said. Pilatus has built about 1,500 of the planes since the PC-12’s debut in the mid-1990s, and the company continues to manufacture about 60 new PC-12s per year, according to Simpson.

For the past three months, 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.

The company, which was founded in 2007, has never experienced issues with the PC-12, Simpson said. “We’ve never had any accidents, injuries or fatalities in our history, and we certainly plan to keep it that way going forward,” Simpson said. “Safety is very important to us.”

There has never been a PC-12 fatality due to engine issues or failure, Simpson said. Rather, fatalities have been due to human error, he added.

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.

“It’s more the pilots and their training that are the biggest factor” in air travel safety, Simpson said.

The company’s EAS bid is still pending, Simpson said. The EAS contract with Great Lakes Airlines, which previously provided service to Cortez, expired June 30.

If the U.S. Department of Transportation awards Boutique Air’s bid, travelers could see ticket rates at the Cortez Airport for as low as $49, Simpson said. The company typically offers an introductory rate for three to six months upon starting service at a new location, he said.

“We really want people to try our service,” Simpson said. “We keep prices low, let people learn about our service and try it out.”

Under the Boutique Air model, ticket prices increase as they become more scarce, Simpson said. The first seat sold on a flight will be cheaper, whereas the last few seats remaining will be more expensive, he said. There is no time factor with regard to the company’s pricing, he added.

Cortez will be the 16th community where Boutique Air will provide service, Simpson said.

“We’re really excited to be coming to Cortez,” he said. “We’re confident it will be an improvement over the service that has been there for quite some time.”


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