Northern Pacific Eyes Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul As Initial Routes

Startup airline Northern Pacific has been clear that it wants to connect the Far East with the lower 48 US states, leveraging its position to provide a unique stopover opportunity. Speaking to Simple Flying, CEO Rob McKinney shed some light on exactly which cities the airline is targeting, and why.

Northern Pacific
Northern Pacific is eyeing some key destinations in both Asia and the US. Photo: Northern Pacific

Northern Pacific reveals its destination plans

Since it came to light that aviation entrepreneur Rob McKinney was eyeing an Icelandair-style stopover airline for Alaska, he’s made no secret of his plan to connect the lower 48 with destinations in Asia. However, at Simple Flying’s recent Future Flying Forum, the airline CEO shed some light on the target destinations for Northern Pacific’s operations. He said,

“As far as the markets that we’re going to serve, we did lots of analysis, as you might imagine, and we’re picking what we think has the strongest traffic potential to be able to fill a single narrowbody a day. So, we’re looking at Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Seoul on the Asian side. And then on the continental US side, we’re looking at Orlando, New York, Las Vegas, Houston as a potential maintenance base, as well as LA and San Francisco.”

Of course, many of those locations would have been slot deprived pre-COVID, and it would have been a tough call for a new airline like Northern Pacific to get a position at these congested airports. But times have changed, and McKinney is keen to grasp the opportunity that has presented itself.

NPA possible routes
McKinney named a number of possible routes on the cards for the NPA launch. Photo: GCMaps

“We find ourselves in a post-COVID world where there’s opportunities that just didn’t exist in 2019. So we’re able to have conversations and get slots in a place like Narita or Incheon. Even large airports in the US, like JFK or SFO have reached out to us and said that they have availability for a new entrant. So we really see this as a as a timing play that we want to make sure that we’re in place ready to go when the world does finally fully open up.”

McKinney previously explained to Simple Flying that the acquisition of Boeing 757s is not a forever decision. Speaking to us in September, he described the older narrowbodies as ‘not Mr Right as much as Mr Right Now’. In time, NPA will look to newer technology aircraft, but right now, it’s a case of being ready to go when the lights turn green.

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The opportunity in Anchorage

The vision that McKinney is embracing for this new airline is very much about leveraging its unique position on the globe. In the same way that Keflavik is just about the mid point between North America and Europe, Anchorage occupies a similar position between eastern Asia and the United States. McKinney added,

“When I talk to local Alaskans, one of their biggest frustrations is if they do travel to Asia, they have to fly to Seattle and then essentially fly right back over their house. Because a great circle routing takes them right over Anchorage to go to the Far East. If you draw a line between any major city in Asia and any major city in the United States, it comes within almost 100 miles of Anchorage anyway, so creating the stopover opportunity here in Anchorage really doesn’t take people out of their way.”

Northern Pacific Airways
The facilities at ANC are attractive, as well as its location. Photo: Northern Pacific Airways

And it’s not just the location that could give Alaska the stopover advantage for travelers to and from the States. As anyone who has ever tried to immigrate at any major US airport will know, getting through security can be something of a nightmare. Anchorage is a much quieter airport, barely utilized on the passenger side, with all the facilities necessary to get people stamped into the United States quickly and easily.

“The facility here is amazing opportunity for us as well. There’s an entire North Terminal that’s currently barely being used. It’s less than daily serviced by a couple of seasonal operators, and there’s an FIS that’s not being used. So it really seems like a perfect opportunity.”

Although its likely to be later into 2022 before we see Northern Pacific take off, McKinney’s dream has a lot of positive attributes. It will undoubtedly prove popular with the locals and with Asian visitors looking for a less stressful way to enter the US. And for those keen to have an adventure on route, the stopover program will open up the wonders of Alaska to the world, and will provide incoming traffic for McKinney’s ‘other’ airline – Ravn Alaska.