Ravn Spin-Off Buys 757s For Asia Routes
Concept art of a Boeing 757 in Northern Pacific livery.
Northern Pacific Airways
The new venture for out-of-state air travel by Ravn Alaska’s sister brand is beginning to take off. Northern Pacific Airways has purchased its first Boeing 757, plus another five in various stages of acquisition, with the goal of connecting Anchorage to the Lower 48 and Asia sometime next year.
“We believe that this is a unique opportunity in the airlines, that we think will be completely in a post-COVID world next year, and then if we wait too long, that window of opportunity might close,” says Rob McKinney, CEO of both airlines.
The aviation industry website Simple Flying reports that the narrow-body jets, some that have been in service for more than 25 years, previously flew for American Airlines until they were retired last year and sent to a storage yard in New Mexico. Once rebuilt and painted with Northern Pacific livery, the jets could begin arriving in Alaska by December. McKinney says he wants to have a dozen in hand before launching service in 2022.
That service would include new connections to Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, Japan, from the North Terminal at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC). International flights from ANC disappeared after the fall of the Soviet Union opened the Siberian air corridor, leaving the North Terminal mostly idle except for seasonal flights to Frankfurt, Germany or Petropavlovsk, Russia.
Currently, travel between Alaska and Asia must pass through Seattle or other West Coast airports, where inbound passengers clear US Customs.
A New Rival for Alaska Airlines
Northern Pacific Airways also aims to link Anchorage with out-of-state domestic destinations, including a marathon hop across the entire continent to the vacation hot spot of Orlando, Florida. “Orlando’s not that much different than Korea,” McKinney says, “about seven and a half hours each way.”
The only other flights from Alaska to the East Coast are provided by Delta Airlines seasonally to Atlanta and New York-JFK and by United Airlines’ seasonal flights to Newark, New Jersey. Northern Pacific also intends to fly to the New York City area via Newark.
“We’ve looked at the numbers and there is enough traffic to justify year-round service,” McKinney says.
Year-round flights to Las Vegas would have Northern Pacific compete directly with Alaska Airlines. A planned route to the Los Angeles suburb of Ontario, California, would echo Alaska Airlines another way. Once exclusively an air carrier in Bush Alaska (as Ravn is now), after deregulation in 1978 Alaska Airlines expanded beyond its namesake state and its headquarters in Seattle to include flights to the Ontario airport. At the time, Alaska Airlines had just ten planes in its fleet.
McKinney says Northern Pacific could eventually have fifty planes in its fleet. He also expects to eventually acquire more modern, efficient jets, resorting to the aging 757s only to get the new route structure started.
Concept art shows a Northern Pacific 757 in flight.
Northern Pacific Airways
The company is expanding its workforce, as well. “We’re hiring a whole new depth of talent,” he says. “We have over a dozen people working specifically on the Northern Pacific side of things that all have that level of expertise in Boeing aircraft, international operations, and those kind of things.”
Ravn currently flies only propeller-driven DeHavilland Dash-8s. Northern Pacific would need to hire new crews of jet-certified maintainers. McKinney says they would be based outside of the Anchorage hub, at a Lower 48 airport with the capacity to service 757s.
The jets have a price tag of about $10 million each. McKinney did not detail exactly how the start-up airline can afford the acquisition, except that he does not anticipate going into too much debt while the fleet expands. “Our majority investor is leading the charge,” he says. “We are confident we’ll have all the money that we need in the next couple of months to get the airline launched.”
A Rest Stop at the Air Crossroads
McKinney has said he wants to revive the disused North Terminal as a stopover midway between Asia and the Lower 48, much as Iceland has positioned itself as a trans-Atlantic waypoint. Also, just like Iceland has convinced travelers to leave the airport and spend money on tourist activities, McKinney figures Northern Pacific will offer layovers in Anchorage that would benefit Alaska’s visitor economy.
“We know we can do it at a lower price point than these large, wide-body jets that have to tanker the fuel to go non-stop fourteen or fifteen hours all the way across the Pacific,” he says. “We also think it’ll be a better experience. Total trip time will be about the same, flight times will be about the same, but you’ll be able to stop and in Anchorage, stretch your legs.”
McKinney became Ravn Alaska CEO in 2020 when his California-based commuter airline, FLOAT Shuttle, acquired the bankrupt company and its subsidiary, PenAir. FLOAT (which stands for Fly Over All Traffic) operates a single small plane out of Pomona, yet the tiny operation spun off a holding company to take over Ravn, which now becomes the parent company of Northern Pacific’s international fleet.
This year the Alaska Railroad is celebrating 100 years of transportation people and cargo around Alaska. While the railroad is one of the states oldest transporters, it certainly isn’t the only one, and in this issue of Alaska Business we also check in on the Marine Highway, Span Alaska, and the White Pass & Yukon Route. For those interested in Southeast, our focus on that region provides updates on Kensington Mine, Tongass FCU, the troll fishery, and Juneau’s growing landfill.