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Trip Report: America’s Remaining Passenger Metroliner
While mostly gone from the skies, this week’s trip report follows America’s only remaining Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner. Operated by Key Lime Air, this unique aircraft can only be found flying passengers on one route in the entire United States; Denver to Alliance, Nebraska.
I was very excited to have the opportunity to fly on another Essential Air Service (EAS) route, even more so with a unique carrier serving the route. As shown by my past trip reports on EAS carriers as Mokulele Airlines in Calif. , and most recently my trip on the inaugural flight of Cape Air out of Manistee, Mich. , each route offers a chance to fly on smaller aircraft.
Key Lime Air is a predominantly cargo airline that branched out to fly passengers under the ‘Denver Air Connection’ banner. Although the passenger flights do wear ‘Denver Air Connection’ titles, all flights are still operated by Key Lime Air and carry the same callsign.
Denver Air Connection currently operates three Essential Air Service routes, two of which are from Denver, but only one of which has the Fairchild Metroliner. Most Metroliners are equipped with two four-bladed propellers, although Key Lime Air has equipped them with five-bladed props in order to reduce noise.
Day of The Flight
Denver Air Connection doesn’t offer online check-in, so passengers beginning their travel in Denver must be at the ticket counter no later than 45-minutes before departure time.
The airline’s ticket counter is located on the East side of the airport departure level between Spirit Airlines and Boutique Air. Check-in was easy, as I arrived two hours prior to scheduled departure and found no line.
Although the carrier only operates three routes out of Denver Intl., the carrier does participate in the TSA-PreCheck program and the customer service representative was happy to add my number.
After passing through security and taking the inter-terminal train to the ‘A Gates’, I proceeded to make the walk to the very end of the terminal where Denver Air Connections gate is located, A64. The part of the concourse where Denver Air Connection operates out of is a little further away from everything else, but I didn’t mind it much as it was nice and quiet.
This is the part of Denver international that Great Lakes Airlines used to operate a hub out of before the airline collapsed in spring of 2018. Lining this long hallway are multiple empty departure gates and desks that will never be used again, as the eventual plan is to demolish this mostly empty wing of the airport.
At the very end of the concourse is Denver Air Connection at A64. Two other airlines occupy this secluded part of the concourse: Boutique Air at gate A65, and Frontier Airlines’s one gate A60, which is unusually far from the rest of their operations.
At the time of this article, the airline operate flights to Clovis, N.M. and Telluride, Colo. out of Denver International in addition to the Alliance, Neb. flight that I was taking. Flights to both Clovis and Telluride are operated using the carrier’s Dornier 328Jet.
Next to the gate were two carry-on bag sizers, one for the Metroliner, which read “Metro 23” and the other for the Dornier 328Jet flights. I had a backpack that did not fit perfectly in the sizer, but I was reassured that I would be fine by the gate agent.
The flight began to board 20-minutes prior to departure time, and with only five of us on the flight, it took less than a minute for all of us to gather near the door.
As we came closer to the aircraft, it struck me just how odd this aircraft looked. The aircraft was particularly large for only having a capacity of nine-passengers.
It turns out the aircraft actually has a capacity for 19-passengers and even has 19-seat numbers along the walls, but the airline opted to remove half the seats.
After boarding the aircraft, the engines powered up and we taxied to the runway. I was pleasantly surprised by how quiet the inside of the cabin is compared to the outside, although it would be interesting to take a ride on the four-bladed prop to see how much of a difference that is.
As we taxied out, I could also see the reflection of the aircraft in the silver/chrome engine cowling, impressed by how cleaned it look.
After departure, we climbed to our cruising altitude of 19,000-feet and began to head northeast towards Alliance, Neb.. Despite the small and unusually shaped aircraft, the ride to Nebraska wasn’t that bumpy.
The flight went on normally, and with no flight attendant or restroom, there was no reason to leave your seat. So for the short 44-minute flight I kept my eyes glued to the window of this most unusual aircraft. Another unique aspect of this aircraft was getting to see the cockpit mid-flight, something that is becoming less and less common.
Before we knew it, we began out descent into the Alliance area, and the airport came into view
Upon landing in Alliance, we taxied to the terminal building and powered down. It is truly unique to see how a flight on a plane like this is so unique for some, but is just another way to start or end a trip for the residents of this community.
After entering the small terminal from the aircraft, it was a mere 20-feet until I reached the entrance to the building. The true joy of being from a small town – being literally a stones throw away from your plane, even when you are still in the parking lot!
The return flight to Denver was virtually the same as the flight to Alliance. After a quick climb up to 19,000-feet, it was not long before it was time to begin our descent. The return flight ended up being 47-minutes and the approach was considerably bumpier, although still better than some propeller planes I’ve ridden on.
Bottom Line and Video
The trip was a unique experience, offering a view into an aircraft that few ever have the chance to experience. While my flight was short, I will have fond memories of the Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner. Remember, you can only find this aircraft flying passengers on one route in the entire United States; from Denver to Alliance, Neb. with Denver Air Connection.The full trip report video I created for this flight can be found below.
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