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Denver Air Connection chosen to serve Cortez Municipal Airport

Denver Air Connection will be the new commercial airline serving the Cortez Municipal Airport. (Courtesy photo)
Twin-propeller plane has increased passenger and cargo capacity over previous carrier

Cortez Municipal Airport will have a new airline this fall that features a larger plane.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has selected Denver Air Connection to provide Essential Air Service from Cortez to Denver International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

The contract begins Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30, 2024. The airline will provide 12 weekly round trips to DIA and 12 weekly round trips to Phoenix.

EAS contracts pay qualified airlines a federal subsidy to operate in rural areas to provide residents a link to major transportation hubs. Cortez is one of three EAS airports in the state along with Alamosa and Pueblo.

The city of Cortez campaigned for Denver Air Connection, citing its reputation for reliability, aircraft type and its capacity to increase passenger service.

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“The city is excited to welcome Denver Air Connection,” said Cortez Mayor Rachel Medina in a statement. “The safety and reliable service will be a great asset for our community and for the visitors coming to enjoy our area.”

Denver Air will replace Boutique Air, which has held the EAS contract for Cortez since 2015. The federal subsidy for the Denver Air contract is $6.4 million.

The new airline service will fly a twin-propeller nine-seat Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner aircraft flown with two pilots. Boutique Air uses an eight-passenger Pilatus PC-12 single-propeller plane.

EAS communities are involved in the selection process for airline carriers in partnership with the Department of Transportation, which makes the final decision.

In a news release, DOT said Denver Air Connection’s proposal meets the air carrier selection criteria the department is required to consider.

“Denver Air Connection received broad community support from Montezuma County, the City of Cortez, and multiple organizations with ties to tourism and economic development,” the release states. “Additionally, it has an interline agreement with United Airlines, it has provided reliable air service at other EAS communities, it included a marketing plan in its proposal, and the Department finds its service and subsidy levels reasonable.”

Denver Air Connection will link the many Four Corners communities, including the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, to two large hubs, maintaining access to the national aviation transportation system.

Cortez Airport Manager Jeremy Patton said the new airline is a good fit for the region, and has the potential to grow with the community.

He said Denver Air’s Metroliner actually has a capacity of 18 passengers, but was modified to nine seats to meet the commercial airline criteria for the Cortez Airport.

“It is very roomy, with much more cargo space for luggage, bikes, skis and golf bags,” he said.

Denver Air has 25 years’ experience in the Rocky Mountains.

The airport is working on upgrades to qualify for Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 139 Airport Certification, which would allow the airport additional funding and an aircraft with 10 or more seats.

The project includes improvements in airport technology and fire suppression.

Pending FAA approval, Patton said, Denver Air is prepared to utilize a twin-engine jet plane with 30-person capacity for commercial service at the Cortez Airport.

The new Denver Air contract will increase daily round trips to Phoenix to two per day, up from one, because of the increased popularity of the destination, Patton said.

Denver Air has committed to $20,000 in yearly advertising costs until enplanement goals are achieved. The airline was chosen over the other finalist Southern Airways Express.

Jon Coleman, director of business development and pilot for Denver Air, submitted comments during the community feedback portion of the vetting process.

“For 25 years, we’ve been flying the Rockies in all kinds of weather, and a tremendous amount of our pilot experience comes from single-pilot operations in the Rockies,” he said.

Coleman touted Denver Air’s on-time reliability rating of 97%, and an even higher overall reliability rate.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com