Ahead of Launch, a Northern Pacific 757 Arrives at ANC
The interior of the first Northern Pacific Airways 757 to land in Anchorage.
Passengers can’t book tickets yet on Northern Pacific Airways, but the new international airline is getting ready for business. One of its jets is circumnavigating its namesake body of water, stopping in Alaska this week at the refurbished North Terminal at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC).
Show and Tell
The airline’s first flight took off from Ontario, California (inland from Los Angeles) and stopped in Maui, Hawaii and then Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands. The company calls it a “show and tell” tour.
Boeing 757-200 628NP pulled up to ANC’s gate N5 on Tuesday, showing off its black-and-silver livery at the airline’s future hub. That future has slipped, from a hoped-for launch before Christmas until sometime by June 2023.
Rob McKinney, CEO of Northern Pacific Airways, believes November was a realistic launch date until Russian airspace became a no-go. For a while, the airline explored destinations in Mexico as its first connections from Anchorage, but even that didn’t work out.
“We ran into some technical snags with Mexico,” McKinney explains, but then trans-Pacific flights to Asia became a possibility again. “Japan now has opened back up, so we decided to refocus. We’re still moving forward with all the regulatory hurdles in case Mexico works itself out, but it’s not a priority.”
The company still has plans to connect Tokyo and Seoul to Los Angeles and even New York City via Anchorage.
“Anchorage used to bustle as an international hub with travelers connecting from Asia, Russia, and the Lower 48 alike,” McKinney says. That bustle centered on ANC’s North Terminal, built in the ‘80s when Anchorage was the Air Crossroads of the World for flights avoiding the USSR’s Siberian air corridor. International flights from ANC disappeared after the fall of the Soviet Union, leaving the terminal mostly idle except for seasonal flights to Frankfurt, Germany or Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia.
In the off-season, the lights are kept on for cargo crews that move through the terminal. The fixtures remain much as they were in the early ‘90s, such as the black leather seats slung from tubular frames at each of the gate areas. Vacant concession kiosks still display ‘90s-vintage signs. The lobby is the same as ever.
Maroon carpet has been scuffed and torn over the last thirty years, but it will soon be replaced. The state-owned airport has plans to refurbish the common areas to match the glossy lounge that Northern Pacific has installed in its leased space.
The glass doors to the renovated section of the North Terminal reflect a Northern Pacific Airways 757 parked at Gate N5.
Glass doors automatically slide apart at the entrance to the Northern Pacific Navigators Club. A wall-sized abacus hangs above the bar. The space has yet to be furnished, but the wood paneling and black countertops already give it a sophisticated atmosphere.
The lounge facing Gate N5 is reserved for first-class travelers, but the adjoining mini-theater is meant for all classes flying on Northern Pacific. Fifty chairs face a floor-to-ceiling movie screen in a space little larger than a conference room. To save space, the minimalist chairs have ultra-thin seats that fold completely into the rectangular backs. The airline intends to show a movie with scenes of other Alaska destinations.
“For all these connecting people who are making a tight connection, we want them to see, ‘This is what you missed because you didn’t stay here.’ And next time they come through, they’ll book a couple extra days,” McKinney explains. It’s a tourism advertising model he’s borrowing from IcelandAir, in hopes of coaxing more visitors to spend money in Alaska.
Northern Pacific plans to use all the gates in the terminal for its flights, including the international side for passengers screened by US Customs and Border Protection. Currently, travel between Alaska and Asia must pass through Seattle or other West Coast airports to clear customs.
Altogether, the $6 million refurbishment covers 4,000 square feet of leased space, including 1,200 for Northern Pacific’s crew area and the ticket counter.
“We’re proud to say that Alaska’s North Terminal now looks the best it ever has,” McKinney says. “Visitors will be inspired to stay and explore Alaska, and Alaskans will have easier access to international travel than ever before.”
A Real Airplane
A Northern Pacific Airways 757 at the North Terminal.
Boeing 757-200 628NP is one of four jets currently in the Northern Pacific fleet, with eight more on order. They previously flew for American Airlines until they were retired in 2020 and sent to a storage yard in New Mexico. A year ago, Northern Pacific bought them for approximately $10 million apiece and repainted them with fresh livery.
Inside, it looks like any 757 that’s been in service for twenty-five years. The upholstery, though, is fresh, emblazoned with the airline’s “N” monogram.
That symbol is one more snag that’s keeping the airline grounded in 2020. BNSF Railway is suing Northern Pacific’s parent company, FLOAT Alaska (which also owns Ravn Alaska), claiming trademark infringement. The railroad owns the former Northern Pacific Railway, which operated from Minnesota to Washington until 1970, when it became part of the Burlington Northern Railroad, which then merged with the Santa Fe Railway in 1996. BNSF claims that it still uses the Northern Pacific name in its branding, which should prevent the airline from registering the name as its own trademark.
McKinney is optimistic that the trademark suit will work out in his favor. “That’s just gonna be a wrinkle in the road,” he says. “They have not used that trademark in fifty years commercially. They can still obviously sell their pillows and T-shirts and all this kind of stuff, and what we do is nothing like a railroad does.”
The first flight of Northern Pacific Airways is returning to its maintenance base in California, and there it will wait until the airline can take paying customers.
Of the circumnavigation tour, McKinney says, “This was just to demonstrate the progress that we’ve made and to let Alaska see that it’s a real airplane.”