Airline passengers in and out of the Chadron Airport can look forward to reliable service as early as mid-July. The Department of Transportation has awarded the Essential Air Service contract to Boutique Air, ending service by Great Lakes Airlines, which has faced difficulties in maintaining a regular flight schedule due to a pilot shortage.
City Manager Wayne Anderson announced the final selection Monday. Boutique Air will offer flights to Denver from both Alliance and Chadron. Great Lakes’ contract has been extended to cover the transition period until Boutique Air is ready to begin operations. However, the airline has only five flights on its schedule for May and none listed as yet for June, Anderson said. The pilot shortage has led Great Lakes to once again severely cut back its services.
“That’s a serious problem,” Anderson said.
An email from Boutique Air’s CEO Shawn Simpson said the airline is completing testing of its reservation system and touring Denver International Airport to finalize the lease for its space there. Pilots are in training this month, and the hiring process for customer service agents will begin soon.
“They’re anxious to get started,” Anderson said.
The city will have an open house for Boutique Air later this summer.
“They’re concerned about quality,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be a great switch.”
Four companies placed bids for the two-year contract to service Chadron and Alliance. Boutique Air earned a joint recommendation from both cities earlier this year after bidding a $4.2 million contract. Boutique Air will fly a PC-12 Pilatus out of each city, with a third plane based in Denver to be called into service if needed. The airline flies the plane in an executive configuration featuring eight large, leather seats.
With the official awarding of the contract, the city can now proceed on price option negotiations. Anderson indicated earlier this year that Boutique Airlines tickets will be the same price regardless of when the passenger makes their purchase.
In other business, the council approved an interlocal agreement with Chadron State College for the operation of the city swimming pool once it is expanded and enclosed. Under the agreement approved, CSC will pay up to 50 percent of the operational costs for 10 years for an investment of an estimated $1.9 million. In return, the college will have exclusive access to the pool for its curriculum up to 10 hours per week, and CSC students will have free access with their student identification.
Vice Mayor Mark Werner suggested some changes to the document, including a stipulation that the city will set the hours of operation and that the college will pay 50 percent of the operation costs. CSC Vice President of Administration and Finance Dale Grant said he does not foresee any problems with those changes, and supports the approval of them through an addendum to be considered by the college’s Board of Trustees in September.
The council also approved $4 million in bond anticipation notes for the First and Main street project and approved paying Reede Construction $1.2 million for work at the city airport. Most of that will be reimbursed by the Federal Aviation Administration.