By Joey Gerardi
Denver Air Connection Spreads Its Wings
Colorado-based Denver Air Connection, or DAC for short, has had a very successful year. In just the past year and a half, they went from just four-passenger destinations to nine, and they are not done yet. Between May and August of 2020, they added Clovis, N.M.; Thief River Falls, Minn.; and Minneapolis St./Paul. This past summer they added Pierre, S.D.; Watertown, S.D.; and Chicago O’Hare to their network.
Clovis, Thief River Falls, Pierre, and Watertown are all Essential Air Service, or EAS, contracts that they have won. The cities of Clovis and Thief River Falls won the contracts from San Francisco-based Boutique Air. In Pierre and Watertown they won the contracts from Utah-based SkyWest although SkyWest is still serving those cities without subsidy, the SkyWest flights are flown under the United Express brand. In this update, they will be announcing two more new cities to carriers growing route map, Ironwood, Mich. and Phoenix Sky Harbor, bringing their total number of destinations up to 11 across eight states.
DAC has secured yet another EAS contract, this time in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the city of Ironwood. Current carrier Boutique Air has decided to terminate their contract after two incidents on the route during this past winter season, the first being a wheel falling off one of their aircraft on approach to Chicago O’Hare, and the second being the cargo door in the passenger cabin opening while on takeoff roll. The city of Ironwood asked the DOT to rebid the contract for the community after the two incidents and DAC was chosen.
The carrier will not change the destinations offered from the city and will fly to Minneapolis St./Paul and Chicago O’Hare. The flights to Minneapolis and Chicago will each operate once every day of the week making a total of 12-weekly round trip flights. Although neither destination will have flights on Saturdays, meaning that there will be no available flights out of the city that day.
Denver Air Connection’s website doesn’t show what aircraft will be operating each route although we reached out to the company and they did say they would fly primarily the 50-seat Embraer E145 out of Ironwood. This is odd as third-party booking sites such as Kayak and Orbitz are still showing the 30-seat Dornier 328Jets operating the flights to Minneapolis and the 50-seat Embraer E145 operating the flights to Chicago O’Hare, but that will most likely change as we get closer to the inaugural flight. The flight to Chicago O’Hare leaves Ironwood at 12:55-P.M. and the Minneapolis flight leaves Ironwood at 3-P.M..
Boutique Air’s last day of service to Ironwood will be Sept. 30, 2021, with DAC beginning service the next day, Oct. 1, 2021. They will operate six-weekly flights to each Chicago O’Hare and Minneapolis St./Paul, for a total of 12-weekly round-trip flights. Boutique operates 18-weekly flights but on considerably smaller 8-seat Pilatus PC-12’s. Assuming none of the flights are canceled, Boutique has roughly 144-weekly seats into Ironwood, but the new flights on DAC will be using primarily 50-seat Embraer E145’s according to the company.
This means that if DAC doesn’t cancel any flights and they are all operated by the 50-seat Embraer E145 jet, they will have roughly 600-weekly seats in the city, that’s more than a 400% increase in available seats from Boutique despite having fewer departures per month. Worst-case scenario and every single flight is operated using the 30-seat jet, that’s still more than double the number of monthly seats Boutique currently has.
With the termination of the previous contract, this means the two-year contract time period will reset, so instead of the contract expiring in June of 2022 DAC will have the contract in Ironwood for the next two years, until Sept. 30, 2023. The first-year subsidy will be $3,398,947 and the second-year subsidy will be $3,466,926.
DAC will be expanding to its fourth large airport and not only that, but this will be the southernmost and westernmost destination the airline will serve and for parts of the year they will operate flights in three different time zones. Flights to Sky Harbor will operate from Telluride, Colo. a wealthy ski village high in the Rocky Mountains, Telluride Regional Airport is the highest elevation of any airport with commercial airline service in the United States, and the second-most overall in the country coming in at 9,078-Feet or 2,767-Meters.
Flights will operate between Phoenix and Telluride once a day beginning December 15, 2021, and will complement the carrier’s current Telluride flights out of Denver. The way the flight times line up, if someone was inclined to do so they could fly between Phoenix and Denver with a connection in Telluride. All flights to Telluride will be operated using the 30-seat Dornier 328Jet, a high-winged jet that is perfect for mountain flying. It is still too early to know what terminal and gate they will be operating out of at Phoenix Sky Harbor.
This will be the first time that Telluride will receive nonstop flights to Phoenix although not the first time they will see Arizona flights. The airport did have flights to both Kingman and Prescott, Ariz. with Great Lakes Airlines before they collapsed. Boutique Air also offered one-stop flights to Phoenix out of Telluride with a connection in nearby Cortez, Colo. but that hasn’t operated for a number of years either.
All flights and schedules are subject to change.