The Telluride Regional Airport (TEX) will launch daily commercial jet service for the first time ever Wednesday, thanks to a agreement with Denver Air Connection, an interline partner of United Airlines. (Courtesy photo)

The Telluride Regional Airport (TEX) will launch daily commercial jet service for the first time ever Wednesday from noon to 1:30 p.m. during an event at the highest commercial airport in North America.

Denver Air Connection, an interline partner of United Airlines, will offer daily 40-minute flights to and from Denver on a 30-seat Dornier 328JET, complete will full in-flight services. Through October, tickets are $179 to $200 one way; prices vary depending on dates.  

At Wednesday’s kick-off celebration, 10 people who arrive at the airport by 11:30 a.m. will be entered into a drawing to win a free roundtrip flight, courtesy of the Colorado Flights Alliance (CFA). The winners will fly out of TEX that day and must book their return flight within a week.

“If anybody in the community would like to come out, we’d love to have them welcome the jet and enjoy the champagne toast and celebration, even If they’re not heading to Denver,” CFA COO Matt Skinner said.

Skinner explained talks with Denver Air Connection started several years ago, but only recently was there an opportunity to work together, especially after TEX lost commercial service twice within the past three years.  

On March 26, 2018, Great Lakes Airlines ceased all commercial service at TEX due to a pilot shortage. That was the second time that Great Lakes pulled out of TEX. The airline discontinued flights to and from TEX on Sept. 16, 2014, also due to a pilot shortage. Great Lakes had served Telluride for 17 years prior to the 2014 stoppage. It resumed operations in December 2016.

“It’s been the evolution of Denver Air Connection’s service capabilities and all the investment by TEX over time that finally brought us to the point that we’re able to put together this service,” Skinner said.

The short gap in commercial air service didn’t effect winter air traffic numbers, however, as the area’s two airports — TEX and the Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ) — welcomed a record number of travelers this season, Skinner explained. He credited an increase in direct flights from select markets and a building frequency of flights in and out of major hubs like Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston for the bump.

The new daily flights at TEX will provide residents and visitors alike more convenient access to and from an area that’s not always the easiest to get to.  

“The initial feedback has been great,” Skinner said. “Everyone seems excited to have quick service to Denver on a larger plane really helps our local leisure and business travels, and it’s a great addition for our guests coming in here.”

In a prepared statement, Telluride Mayor Sean Murphy called it “a game-changer that enhances Telluride’s global profile,” adding the service “greatly improves accessibility and convenience.”

Offering commercial jet service at TEX has been a decade in the making, thanks to various airport improvements and the approval of several new approaches, according to Telluride Regional Airport Authority Chair Jon Dwight. In 2008, the FDA required runway and facility upgrades. Since then, several TEX projects have been completed.  

Reconstruction of the aircraft apron and taxiway, terminal improvements, and seal coat and engineered material arresting system (EMAS) work wrapped up in summer 2018.

Two grants — a 90 percent Federal Aviation Association grant and a $250,000 grant from the Colorado Division of Aeronautics — were used to fund the $6.7 million apron project. The airport covered the remainder of the construction costs. Work was done on both the general and commercial aviation terminals, including an addition that increased the size of the lounge area. The size of the TSA holding area was increased, as well.  

“Since that time, our goal has always been to expand commercial service into Telluride,” Dwight said. “ … I was extremely excited that the 10 years of effort was finally coming to fruition and we were able to provide commercial jet service to Telluride, which we’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

And that’s not the only airline news. At MTJ, American Airlines is adding a third daily flight to the Dallas-Fort Worth in the core summer months, with two flights per day in early and late summer, and daily flights continuing through the year.

United’s daily flights Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport will run twice on Saturdays in July, while continuing to operate daily in the fall months through to winter, pushing towards year-round service, according to a CFA news release.

Daily service from Phoenix on American and from Houston on United is also set to return this summer.

To book a Denver-TEX flight through United or Denver Air Connection, visit united.com or denverairconnection.com.