The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Airport board recommends Boutique Air for EAS


January 7, 2020


Ironwood — At a special meeting Monday the Gogebic-Iron County Airport Board recommended awarding a new airline the Essential Air Service (EAS) contract for the first time since 2014.

“The airport board voted to ask the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide Boutique Airlines with air service for two years starting Aug. 1, 2020, with service to Minneapolis and Chicago,” said Joe Bonovetz, airport board chair and Gogebic County commissioner. “There are several things we’d have to nail down with the airlines should Boutique be chosen by the DOT and then they would begin service Aug. 1.”

The board recommendation will also need approval of the respective Gogebic and Iron County boards. If Boutique is approved by the DOT, the current EAS provider, Air Choice One, would continue service through July 31.

Gogebic-Iron County Airport is an EAS rural or small-community airport and is eligible for DOT funding along with county tax dollars to subsidize commercial passenger air service, Bonovetz said.

The board priorities included an EAS provider with a major airline interline agreement for seamless ticketing and baggage service to the end destination. Without the interline passengers need to repeat stops at baggage claims and flight-check ins when making a flight connection.

Boutique has an interline agreement with United Airlines and American Airlines. The company has its own online scheduling software to include mobile phone access to boarding passes, at home check-in and TSA pre-check and wheelchair access.

Bonovetz said the decision is an attempt to win back the business community that has turned away from the local area as a reliability problem. He said the decision is also to slow the flow of people who drive to other regional airports that have interline service.

The proposal indicates the airline will overnight two planes and two crews in Ironwood along with mechanics to avoid delays and non-weather cancelations, Bonovetz said. Another factor was that Boutique would consider a second daily flight to Minneapolis, which could increase Ironwood’s boarding numbers, he said.

Ironwood current annual boardings average 5,300 annually and if the airport can increase flights to make it mathematically possible to board 8,000 passengers annually there is an additional $600,000 in EAS funding from the DOT, he said.

“This would mean that both counties would be able to stop having to give a subsidy to the airport each year, which would be good for the taxpayers,” Bonovetz said.

The $3.6 million bid from Boutique Air was the least expensive but all four proposals were fairly close. Air Choice One had sought to continue providing service to Ironwood. The remaining two proposals came from Southern Airways Corporation and Denver Air Connection.

“Four separate bids for the contract shows the potential growth for our airport,” said Brandon Snyder, an Iron County supervisor on the airport commission who seconded the motion to approve Boutique made by Tom Laabs, a Gogebic County commissioner.

There were no motions to approve another airline.

James Lorenson, another Gogebic County commissioner member, appeared by phone but abstained from voting. Patrick Hanson, the other Iron County supervisor member, said passengers had expressed satisfaction with Air Choice One but opted to go with Boutique after board discussion.

Air Choice One had proposed 18 weekly round-trips to Minneapolis and Chicago. The airline recently completed its application for interline service and was awaiting approval.

The board favored Boutique in part for pressurized planes that have restrooms, and they fly higher and faster making it possible to fly through more weather. Boutique’s inventory includes the Pilatus PC-12 turboprop, the Beechcraft King Air twin engine, and Piaggio P.180 Avanti, an Italian executive transport aircraft with twin rear turboprops.

The reduced flight time allows for later departures so that passengers can make connecting flights in Chicago at 7 a.m. and Minneapolis by 9 a.m., Bonovetz said. The evening return flights allow for same day round-trip travel for business and leisure.

The board considered the Denver Air Connection proposal to provide 30 seat and 50 seat passenger jets for even shorter flight times and a much smoother ride. But the proposal only offered service to Chicago and not to Minneapolis.

The members agreed that jet service would increase boardings but that the Minneapolis flight was essential based on feedback from a previous two-year period without service to the Twin Cities. The airport should also be more prepared to add jet service to include a larger hanger, they said.

“In a few years it would be good to have jet service,” Laabs said.

Another selling point for Boutique was its pending fly-through program with United Airlines. The agreement attracts pilots during a time of pilot shortages with the incentive to build hours flying their planes until they qualify to seek a rating with United’s larger planes.

“That pass-through program should ensure that Boutique will have an adequate number of pilots who are seeking to get the number of hours they need to become a legacy pilot,” Bonovetz said.

The board will review and consider a letter to the DOT expressing interest in approving Boutique Airlines as the EAS contractor at the 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 13 meeting at the airport office.

Boutique Airlines officials could not be reached for comment on Monday.

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