Key Lime Air (KG, Denver Centennial) - through its Denver Air Connection (DAC) brand - has clinched a two-year Essential Air Service contract at Ironwood, Michigan/Ashland, Wisconsin after the previous contractor, Boutique Air was forced to terminate its contract early due to safety concerns.

Boutique Air resigned its two-year contract - due to have run until July 31 next year – on May 19 after two operational incidents caused the local Gogebic-Iron County Airport Board to unanimously vote to seek a new EAS provider, according to a regulatory notice by the US Department of Transportation (DOT).

In the first incident, a Boutique Air flight lost a wheel prior to landing in Chicago O'Hare on January 21, 2021. Then, on the Minneapolis/St. Paul to Ironwood route on May 5, 2021, a cargo door opened during take-off, spilling luggage and alarming passengers who alerted the crew to abort the take-off.

Boutique Air had provided Ironwood with 13 weekly nonstop return flights to Chicago and five weekly nonstop rotations to Minneapolis, using nine-seater PC-12s at a first-year annual subsidy of USD3.5 million, and a second-year annual subsidy of USD3.6 million.

Under the new contract, starting from October 1, 2021, to September 30, 2023, DAC will provide six weekly nonstop rotations to Chicago O'Hare and six weekly nonstop round trips to Minneapolis/St. Paul, using 50-seat E145 or 30-seat Dornier 328 regional jets. The airline will receive a first-year subsidy of USD3.3 million, and USD3.4 million in the second year of the contract.

Other carriers which pitched for the contract included Multi-Aero (3E, Farmington, MO) under its Air Choice One brand, and Southern Airways Express (9X, Memphis Int'l), but the community had supported one of DAC’s proposals.

The DOT has directed Boutique Air to continue providing the service until DAC takes over and has ordered the two airlines to work together to ensure a smooth handover of operations.