The wait is officially over.
Eleven months to the day after former Essential Air Service carrier SkyWest Airlines flew its last plane out of Moab, Boutique Air began direct passenger airline service between Canyonlands Field Airport and Salt Lake City and Denver.
The San Francisco-based airline initially hoped to start local service no later than March 1. But Grand County Airport Manager Judd Hill said the company was delayed as it waited for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to sign off on the new Pilatus PC-12 aircraft that it purchased to serve its fleet.
“As soon as they got the word that they were good to go, they pulled the trigger 30 minutes later,” Hill said. “It really is happening very fast.”
The first “soft opening” flight was set to arrive at Canyonlands Field at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 30.
Boutique will begin by offering two round-trip flights per day between Moab and Salt Lake City, and one daily round-trip flight between Moab and Denver; a complete list of flight arrival and departure times can be found on Boutique’s website at www.boutiqueair.com. Introductory rates will start at $59 to Salt Lake City, and $79 to Denver.
“It’s definitely exciting to have some flights coming back,” Hill said. “We’re very happy with the schedule they’re going to be offering us.”
In the coming weeks, Hill said the airline will be working out the kinks in its current schedule.
During the height of the visitor season, Boutique plans to ramp up that schedule, with three daily round-trip flights between Canyonlands Field and Salt Lake City, and two roundtrip flights per day between Canyonlands Field and Denver.
Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison, who serves as the city’s liaison to the Grand County Airport Board, chuckled when asked if he thought this day would ever arrive, following past disappointments with other airline carriers.
“I was beginning to wonder about that myself,” Sakrison said. “But I’m extremely happy that it’s going to start, and that we’ll have airline service back in the community.”
Utah Airways of Ogden has been offering limited service on Fridays and Mondays between Canyonlands Field and the Salt Lake City International Airport’s general aviation terminal. But the addition of Boutique gives passengers a broader range of options to choose from, with multiple flights per day to two major airports on slightly larger aircraft, with eight or nine seats per plane.
Boutique CEO Shawn Simpson said his company is thrilled to serve one of the most “unique and beautiful” destinations in the country.
“Our focus on customer service and reliability has resulted in strong demand for our service in other markets, and we look forward to creating the same success story here,” Simpson said.
Hill said that Boutique was so eager to get started that it hasn’t even had time to set up the official sign for its check-in counter, which is still on order.
“Unlike some other airlines we’ve dealt with, they want to provide service as quickly as possible,” he said.
Hill’s reference to “some other airlines” was a not-so-cryptic dig at Great Lakes Aviation, which formally withdrew from its Essential Air Service contract with the U.S. Department of Transportation last fall.
Under the terms of its contract, Great Lakes was scheduled to begin service on May 1, 2015. However, not one Great Lakes flight got off the ground at Canyonlands Field before that company pulled out of its agreement. SkyWest, meanwhile, declined to comply with transportation department orders to continue its local service until a new airline was in place, claiming that it no longer has the ability to serve Moab’s airport.
Grand County Council member and airport board liaison Rory Paxman said that officials previously favored Great Lakes Aviation because of the commitments it made in its Essential Air Service proposal. Among other things, the company touted its code-sharing agreements with other airlines. Its proposal to use bigger planes also would have enabled the airport to keep its Transportation Security Administration (TSA) status – a status that it ultimately lost during the lengthy gap in service.
“We thought they would come in and help us out, and they really flaked out on us,” Paxman said.
SkyWest, in contrast, operated without any delays or flight cancellations before it pulled out of its federal contract. With that record boosting passenger traffic, the airport was on track to reach the magic number of 10,000 enplanements in a year, which would have brought in $1 million in federal funding, according to Paxman.
Boutique’s contract to serve the airport is set to run for two years. Paxman said the airport board plans to make the most of that time by taking steps to accommodate larger planes, which could bring airlines that operate bigger regional jet service aircraft to Canyonlands Field.
“We’re trying to get the airport going again with (SkyWest),” Paxman said.
An engineering company is working with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to potentially acquire nearby property for future expansions at the airport. The board also hopes that contractors can begin construction work this winter on runway improvements, which are timed to minimize any disruptions on businesses that operate at the airport.
“It’s going to affect some, (but) it’s the only time we can build out there,” Paxman said.
Boutique’s fleet includes corporate-style jets with reclining leather seats and soundproofed cabins that are “second in comfort only to your living room,” according to the company.
Hill will be among the first local passengers to test-ride the new planes: He and other airport staffers are certified aircraft rescue firefighters, and since they have to familiarize themselves with the airline’s emergency procedures and operations, they were planning to take Boutique flights to and from Salt Lake City this week.
“So we’re going to take advantage of these first flights and be able to see their facilities, and how that particular aircraft operates,” he said.
For more information about Boutique flights, or to make a reservation, go to www.boutiqueair.com, or call Boutique’s toll-free number at 855-268-8478.
Flights from Moab to SLC, Denver now available, following 11-month gap
It’s definitely exciting to have some flights coming back … We’re very happy with the schedule they’re going to be offering us.