Cortez Municipal Airport slowly recovers from pandemic slowdown – The Journal
The essential air service contract is up for tender this year; the director hopes for an airline with more capacity
Cortez Municipal Airport is slowly recovering from the travel impacts caused by the pandemic and is looking for ways to increase usage.
In 2021, the number of passengers who boarded Boutique Air and private planes reached 6,500, compared to 5,600 boardings in 2020, an increase of 16%.
However, passenger numbers have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
In 2019, 8,300 passengers took off from Cortez, up from 7,600 in 2018, an increase of 9%.
“2020 saw a huge decrease in travel and then it started to pick up in February 2021,” airport manager rJeremy Patton said.
In December 2021, 460 passengers flew in December, compared to 414 in December 2020 and 680 in December 2019.
The pandemic has shattered the momentum for the airport’s climb to 10,000 boardings, Patton said, but a gradual rebound is underway.
The 10,000 passenger threshold opens the door to $ 1 million in funding from the Federal Aviation Administration for airport infrastructure improvements, which Patton says is necessary to attract regional airlines that offer additional destinations.
To increase utilization and expand service, Patton advocates an airline with an aircraft that exceeds Boutique Air’s eight-passenger single-propeller planes.
“There is not much we can do on these planes. Our challenge is to increase boardings, ”he said. “The demand is increasing. Ideally, we need a small or medium jet with a capacity of 30 passengers.
Cortez Municipal Airport has an adequate runway for a midsize jet, Patton said, and charter planes of this type already use the airport.
Boutique Air has been providing Cortez passenger service to Denver and Phoenix under an essential air service contract with the U.S. Department of Transportation since 2015.
EAS contracts pay qualifying airlines a federal grant to operate in rural areas to provide residents with a link to major transportation hubs. Cortez is one of the state’s three EAS airports along with Alamosa and Pueblo.
Boutique’s five-year contract expires in fall 2022. The contract renewal process is facilitated by the US Department of Transportation with input from the airport and the community.
A request for proposals will be issued this year for the EAS contract to serve Cortez, Patton said, and interested carriers are expected to submit bids in the spring.
There will be a 30 day period for community contribution which will include residents, businesses, tourism groups, airport board and staff, and Cortez City Council.
The information is compiled and a recommendation is submitted to the Ministry of Transport, which makes the final decision on which airline will be awarded the EAS contract.
Overall, Boutique Air has had reliable service in Cortez, Patton said. The disruption caused by the pandemic and a shortage of pilots has affected service somewhat, as has been the case across the industry.
Flights to Phoenix have been popular, Patton said, with some preferring it as a hub at Denver International Airport.
Cortez competes with Durango-La Plata County Airport, which has more flights and destinations. Patton said convenience, easy parking and short security lines draw passengers to Cortez Airport.
Boutique offers car rentals at the airport. Enterprise in Cortez will deliver rental cars to customers at the airport.
Cortez Airport has two full-time employees, 10 to 12 TSA officers, and five flight school staff.
An extension project
Patton is considering expanding and modernizing the airport to meet increased demand.
The resurfacing of the main runway is a priority. The improvement would allow heavier planes to use the airport. The track project is in the engineering phase and work is planned for the coming years. Funding will come from federal, state and local sources.
Other long-term plans include expanding the terminal and modernizing navigation technology. The construction of a second “crosswind” runway would better meet the needs of general aviation. Taxiway improvements, additional parking for private planes and hangars are planned.
The airport has the potential to stimulate economic development and aviation education, Patton said.
He works with local schools to develop aviation career programs. The extension of the flight school to the airport is an objective, in particular the addition of a flight simulator.
“We could be a facility to start new pilots, mechanics and air traffic controllers into the business,” he said. “There are a lot of good jobs in the aviation industry. “
The Four Corners Fall Fly-in took place for the first time this year at the airport to stimulate community participation and interest, and the event will continue.
The airport is used as an oil tanker base by the Bureau of Land Management for firefighting efforts. Helicopters and single-engine tankers load up with fire retardants to douse forest fires in the region.
Interesting planes landing at the airport include larger charter jets, as well as Chinook, Osprey, and Apache helicopters.
“We are ideally located regionally and offer diverse services, but we could offer so much more,” said Patton.