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Mike Hendricks

Mike at Night

Mike Hendricks recently retires as social science, criminal justice instructor at McCook Community College.

Hoping for the best

Friday, December 11, 2015

Boutique Air (kind of a funky name for an airline) is due to become the next passenger airliner in McCook, replacing Great Lakes Airline whose contract expires in June, 2016. Great Lakes has been heavily criticized in this column and by many of the flying public because of their recent unreliability. If you're not for sure your flight is going to leave from McCook or even worse, not connect to McCook once you've arrived in Denver, then you're likely not to fly Great Lakes and that's what more and more people have been doing over the past couple of years. It's a real kick in the pants to fly into Denver only to find that your Great Lakes flight to McCook has been canceled. On top of that, another flight isn't scheduled until the next day and there's no guarantee that flight will go either. Because of that, the number of people boarding in McCook has declined dramatically.

One of the criticisms I've heard around town about the proposed new air carrier is that we'll be going from a twin engine to a single engine airplane and, once that happens, it will be hard for the airport to get back to twin engine status again. I don't know if that's a legitimate issue or not because I'm a passenger and not a pilot or airport manager so that's something others will have to deal with. However, I did a little research of my own on Boutique Air and was pleasantly surprised at what I found.

The interior looks more like the inside of a private jet than a single-engine airplane. The seats are all leather, there is a lavatory on the plane, and snacks and beverages will be served on some flights. The plane itself is a Pilatus PC-12, built by Swiss aircraft manufacturer Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. The company, founded in 1939, has built more than 1,200 PC-12 aircraft since it was introduced in 1994. The airline's website says the plane is recognized for its world-class engineering and flawless safety ratings and it continues to be a very popular choice with charter and scheduled air carriers. In addition to the quiet design to the PC-12 out of the factory, the air carrier added custom soundproofing to its aircraft cabin, making it one of the quietest cabins to fly in. This would be a big bonus because the Great Lakes planes were loud.

Now obviously, airplane manufacturers and airlines always put their best foot forward in their advertising and their web sites. If there are problems or concerns, that's not where we're going to hear about them and no company is perfect so I went to the Yelp site on the Internet and found several reviews for Boutique Air with two thirds of them being very positive which is a good sign. The criticisms were expected: the plane is small so there's little room to maneuver, the bathroom is even smaller and would only be used under dire circumstances, and there's more noise than the passengers expected. But the ground crews and air crews we very friendly with the co-pilot doubling as a flight attendant when needed. There was only one bad review and that had to do with problems on the ground and not in the air

The most important thing for McCook air passengers is promptness and reliability. When we book a flight, we want to be assured that outside of things the airline has no control over like the weather, our flights will arrive and depart close to schedule and that there will be as few canceled flights as possible. That alone would make the new carrier superior to the former one but in looking at the pictures presented on the Boutique website, it looks to be a much more pleasant flying experience than previously realized on Great Lakes.

There are still a couple of other things that have to happen before we start seeing Boutique airplanes flying in and out of McCook. They still have to be awarded the Essential Air Service contract from the Department of Transportation and that application has to be submitted before the Dec. 17 deadline. The city is still contractually obligated to Great Lakes Airlines until that contract expires next year and if things go according to plan, the change in air service could occur within 60 to 90 days after being awarded the contract by the Department of Transportation.

Change isn't always good but in this case I think it is. The citizens of McCook and the surrounding areas needed an airline they could believe in and depend on and Boutique Air seems to be the right answer. Its planes are modern, well-appointed and reasonably quiet so if they can also be on time and on schedule, flying in and out of McCook might be a pleasant experience once again.

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