More than 100 people crowded into the terminal at Dodge City Regional Airport Monday to witness to city's official reconnection by air to the outside world.

The ribbon cutting ceremony was Monday but the San Francisco-based airline Boutique Air began flights out of Dodge City Jan. 1.

Visitors heard from Dodge City Mayor Kent Smoll and Boutique Air COO Brian Murphy, and saw one of the planes Boutique Air will be flying to service the area.

Smoll said having air service back in Dodge City is vital to commerce.

"Business has to have air service available," Smoll said. "Without it we're just kind of an island out here."

Jan Stevens, director of the Dodge City Convention and Visitors Bureau said the return of air service will bolster the business, agriculture, and tourism industries.

"We have a lot of conferences with national speakers," Stevens said. "This is great to make that more convenient. Our transportation system is so important not just for business but visitors as well."
 
Smoll said that the subsidies from the US Department of Transportation's Essential Air Service program are vital.

"That's the only way any small community can afford air transportation," he said.

The move into Dodge City allows Boutique to expand from its Denver location and deliver dependable, affordable air service to southwest Kansas -  the airline promises reliable flights with cheaper prices.

"We have a heavy presence in Denver," Murphy said. "We looked at the community and looked at the traffic and saw it was a perfect fit for us. We're proud to be able to serve Dodge City."

Boutique flies into 30 cities, including 17 EAS-program communities, and serves approximately 200,000 passengers per year.

Murphy said that while the service is still new, Boutique is seeing steadily increasing load factors. The airline is currently offering $59 flights to Denver.

Passenger numbers are already considerably higher than last year. Corey Keller, airport manager, said January of 2017 saw 118 passengers through the airport and as of last week there have already been been more than 150.

"I think people are just glad to have flights coming in and out of here again," Keller said. "To not have an air service for 3 months was huge."  

As the airport's new Essential Air Service provider, Boutique Air fills a gap created when PenAir filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed their Denver hub, cutting off Dodge City's access.

Boutique is slated to operate three flights a day with two Saturday and one on Sunday.

The city took proposals from four different airlines before settling on Boutique.

A baggage agreement with United Airlines allows passengers to avoid hauling luggage through the terminal after touchdown in Denver.

Boutique Air began as an aviation technology company in 2007.

By 2012 the parent company moved into the passenger flight business, operating charter services as well as pilot training and government civil air patrol.

The airline's first commuter route began in 2013 with daily flights between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

To contact the writer email sedger@dodgeglobe.com