Boutique Air pulls LA-ABQ service

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Low counts > Low passenger count was death knell for airlines

By The Staff

Boutique Air has terminated its contract with Los Alamos County to provide service from the city to Albuquerque after the end of April, the county airport manager announced Friday.
“We’re certainly disappointed in this turn of events, as it’s been part of our economic development strategy to facilitate airline service to the community,” County Manager Harry Burgess told the Los Alamos Monitor.
Los Alamos County Airport Manager David Ploeger received a letter Thursday from Shawn Simpson, CEO of Boutique Air. Boutique and the county entered into a contract last November to provide three flights a day between the Los Alamos airport and the Albuquerque Sunport.
According to a release from the county, the letter came after conversations between Simpson and Ploeger about low passenger counts for the commercial airlines service, and the need for Boutique Air to reposition the plane that was serving Los Alamos for higher, more efficient usage in other cities that it served.
Under the contract with the county, either party has the ability to terminate with 15 days written notice. Simpson said that flights are booked through the month of April and therefore Boutique expects to fly the route through April 30, according to the release.
In recent months, the county had been exploring expansion of service to add a flight to Denver – the most frequent suggestion from residents anxious to see a convenient connection to Denver International Airport, which offers frequent flights to both east and west coasts. Entering into a contract for Denver service with any airline would be subject to a competitive bid process, funding appropriated from the county’s budget with a subsidy to offset the cost of the flights, and council approval of the budget and a new contract.
“It’s unfortunate that we were unable to quickly generate the interest and increase in passenger counts during the early days of providing this new air service, which has resulted in Boutique’s business-driven decision to terminate the contract,” said Ploeger.
“Launching this new service during what is typically a slow time for business travel between November and December, along with weather delays or cancellations beyond Boutique’s control because of our active weather pattern in January and early February certainly made this start-up even more challenging. I personally heard from many customers who had tried the new service that they really enjoyed the flights and convenience.”
Ploeger said that “the county has been exploring grant opportunities to extend air service to Denver and should a grant be awarded in the future, we remain optimistic that we would receive a proposal and have a continued professional relationship with Boutique.”
Burgess had not yet had the opportunity to discuss the issue with members of the county council, but anticipates those will happen during budget hearings.
“This is our second try, and we anticipated some conversation about our path forward during our upcoming budget hearings. We will pursue that conversation, however, we’re going to have to regroup to consider what options might make airline service successful in Los Alamos County,” Burgess said.
“We’re living and learning as to what works or doesn’t work, but, unfortunately, without passengers using it, the question is, should we continue?”