By John Flett
U.S. Start-Up Northern Pacific Airways Talks Future at Sumptuous California Unveiling
Northern Pacific Airways introduced the livery design of its first aircraft at an event in San Bernadino, Calif. on Tuesday. The 26-year-old Boeing 757 aircraft previously operated for U.S. Airways and American Airlines and will be one of 12 757s initially planned for the commencement of services by the Anchorage, Alaska-based carrier. The airline’s parent company also operates commuter airline RAVN Alaska.
Commenting on the livery Northern Pacific Chief Executive Officer Rob McKinney stated: “The livery design captures the Northern Pacific brand and our affection for our Alaskan home. The design echoes our airline’s values – elevated customer service, an esteemed point of view, and an innovative route strategy designed to connect passengers from east to west.”
Mr. McKinney told those at the livery reveal that Northern Pacific currently has six of the planned 12 Boeing 757s. The aircraft was selected as they were readily available, though the Boeing 737 MAX 9 or Airbus A321XLR are on the radar for future fleet enhancement. The choice of which will be determined by what is likely to be available sooner.
In an interview with Airline Geeks at the reveal event, Mr. McKinney discussed the start-up’s strategy and route network aspirations.
“We are looking heavily on the Asia side: Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Seoul,” said Mr. McKinney. “On the U.S. side at L.A., San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York and Orlando.” However, details of routes and airports to be used were unable to be divulged by Mr. McKinney at this time because the airline “does not have the authorities from the US DOT (Department of Transportation) yet.”
Northern Pacific will be using Anchorage’s strategic location on the great circle routing between Asia and the U.S. to influence network strategy. This compares much in the same way that Icelandair has leveraged Reykjavik’s geolocation for trans-Atlantic stopovers linking North America and Europe.
Anchorage’s existing tourism draw and RAVN Alaska’s existing operations would be leveraged to facilitate this. Anchorage airport’s empty North terminal will also be providing the base of operations for Northern Pacific “Where else in the world can you find an empty terminal where you can create an airline?” said Mr. McKinney.
When discussing the initial focus on Japanese routes rather than those in China, Mr. McKinney cited pent-up demand as a result of the travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic outbound, Japanese tourism had seen minimal growth compared to other Asian markets and inbound tourism from the U.S. to Japan had declined over the last decade.
“We are definitely optimists,” added Mr. McKinney. “Because of the retraction of the industry and the tapering off of travel that provides the opportunity for us even to enter these markets. If we were to have tried to have done this in 2019 it would have been nearly impossible for us to get slots and gates and the infrastructure needed for an airline of this magnitude.”
With regard to the selection of U.S. destinations from Anchorage, Mr. McKinney cited consideration for routes already well served by existing operators. With the example of Anchorage – Seattle, he said that this was already well served by Alaska Airlines and Delta.
“There is so much open space out there to serve so to go on top of two big competitors didn’t seem the wisest.” In addition to a ‘really good’ partnership with Alaska, Northern Pacific will be seeking to leverage the existing alliances in place with RAVN Alaska. Mr. McKinney stated that “we expect that those will stay in place.”
The target demographic for Northern Pacific’s customer market for the airline was “going to skew younger than the typical trans-Pacific traveller and cost-conscious people that are looking for better options,” said Mr. McKinney.
“People that like the convenience of clearing customs in Anchorage versus an LAX. Cryptocurrency as a loyalty program is going to skewer to a younger crowd.” The use of cryptocurrency instead of miles or points is seen by Mr. McKinney as the way of the future.
With this target demographic the 757 will be configured in three classes, shared Mr. McKinney. In a broader discussion at the event, he said that the three classes of travel would be Economy, Economy Plus and Business.
In his discussion with AirlineGeeks, Mr. McKinney said, “We are still working on the exact LOPA and about 180 as the total density. As the airline is not seeking to target the typical premium class traveler.” He said that service in the top class of travel “will be fairly minimal with amenities and food and possibly enhanced internet but not lie-flat seats, touch screens or any of those types of things.”
Northern Pacific is seeking to commence inaugural operations in Q3 of 2022 though it may be likely that this target date drifts into Q4.
Reporting by AirlineGeeks’ Katie Bailey and John Flett