Northern Pacific Airways 757 Livery Unveiling Event
Ever heard of Northern Pacific Airways? I hadn’t either until last year. The airline has big plans, however. I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the livery unveiling event for Northern Pacific’s first Boeing 757. The plane is the first of a dozen the airline plans to acquire to begin operations. With a unique operational model and an even more unique loyalty program to boot, I’m intensely curious about the future of the transpacific airline startup.
Will Northern Pacific Airways be Able to Get Off the Ground?
Rob McKinney, CEO of Northern Pacific Airways, pointed me toward Icelandair as their model. Why not operate a one-stop model for traffic between the U.S. and Asia just like Icelandair does with traffic to Europe? It’s the same exact thing with the same exact plane. If it works in Reykjavik, it can work in Anchorage. This is what McKinney is banking on, and he was not shy about “wholesale ripping them off,” referring to his Icelandic counterpart. He is very optimistic about the operational model.
I also asked him about the timing. McKinney believes the time is ripe for them to launch an airline, even with so much in question with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If we had tried this in 2019, it wouldn’t have worked,” said Rob McKinney, CEO of Northern Pacific Airways. “It takes a long lead time to launch a global airline.” He is confident that they will have the necessary time. He explained how there are now slots available where there weren’t before, and even with the uncertainty, the disruption due to the global pandemic is working in their favor.
I’m hope he is right. Starting a new airline is not easy and always a gamble. We watched WOW rise and fall quickly. California Pacific Airways was a flash in the pan. I have my doubts about the potential for success for Northern Pacific, specially given the preference for nonstop flights some travelers have.
McKinney remarked that Northern Pacific will be operating a model of predominantly connecting traffic, which is surprising. He stated that “single digit traffic” to Alaska is anticipated, which I assume he means as a percentage of passenger load.
Nonetheless, they will be advertising the great state of Alaska and encouraging stopovers in Anchorage for passengers on their way between continents. Northern Pacific Airways will partner with Visit Anchorage Alaska and offer stopover travel packages bookable directly through their website.
Another major selling point is the time through customs and immigration for travelers coming through Anchorage. McKinney hopes that travelers will consider the time they spend in the immigration queue at LAX as part of their total travel time. He asserts that it will be far quicker to enter the U.S. in Anchorage and continue onward domestically.
When and Where Will Northern Pacific Launch Service?
Rob McKinney expressed that Northern Pacific needs a dozen aircraft to begin operations. The airline is currently at nine hard commitments, so they have just three to go. He has an ambitious launch date sometime in Q3 2022, but it could more likely be closer to the end of the year.
The fact that Northern Pacific is rolling with the Boeing 757 speaks to the timing. They are moving forward with used aircraft rather than “wait for the perfect airplane.” Used aircraft are cheaper, and McKinney believes the time is ripe to begin operations in the current climate.
This is not to say that they aren’t looking at newer planes such as the Boeing 737MAX9 and Airbus A321XLR in the future.
Destinations and Operations
Northern Pacific analyzed city pairs that could support one narrow-body a day. Their operations will initially serve the following markets:
- USA: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City, and Orlando
- Japan: Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka
- South Korea: Seoul
McKinney stated that Northern Pacific Airways is hoping to offer fares that are 15-20% cheaper than current prices between the city pairs they serve. Northern Pacific flights will integrate with the Ravn Alaska fleet to serve other Alaska destinations besides Anchorage.
Northern Pacific Airways 757 aircraft will offer three classes of service: economy, economy plus, and business. The airline also plans to open a lounge in their Anchorage hub.
Northern Pacific Airways Livery Reveal
The Northern Pacific Airways Livery Reveal event was sponsored by AerSale, Certified Aviation Services (CAS), PepsiCo, and Brown-Forman. AerSale is the aircraft leasing company for the first Northern Pacific Airways 757. The highlight of the night was when the plane was when the hangar doors opened and the plane was wheeled in. It was quite the sight. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.
The plane, with tail number N627NP, is an ex-Americans Airlines Boeing 757-200, originally delivered to US Airways. The livery is beautiful. I love the design and colors. The shadowy “N” overlaying “Northern Pacific” near the nose is an especially nice touch. The 27-year-old Boeing looks fantastic in the new paint!
Aside from the big moment, the remainder of the evening was also enjoyable. The Northern Pacific Airways CEO and other executives were on hand to answer questions from members of the media.
Before the unveiling, Rob McKinney sat down with Joanna Bailey, managing editor of Simple Flying. He enthusiastically laid out the airline’s plans and aspirations, touching on some of the concerns he heard from many of us previously. If all the airline needs is confidence to run, then McKinney will provide enough.
Northern Pacific Airways 757 Interiors
Black is the color of the day. The Northern Pacific Airways interior design is minimal, but super slick. Less is more definitely works with the black leather seats.
I didn’t get to sit in them, but the Northern Pacific Airways seats look nicely padded. This would be my primary concern flying two legs aboard a 757 between the U.S. and Asia. Northern Pacific may be seeking to cut costs to reduce fares, but they can’t cut that much from the passenger experience.
The massive downside to the interior is the fact that it is a recliner product. Unlike what American, Delta, or United offer on their long-haul treks, flying Northern Pacific will be more like flying Alaska Airlines all the way to Asia via their Anchorage hub. Northern Pacific just beat them to the idea. Sure, Alaska also doesn’t have Boeing 757 aircraft, which is a critical factor. The passenger experience will be similar however.
The other clear negative is the lack of seat-back IFE. CEO Rob McKinney did hopefully express a robust bring-your-own-device entertainment system and the plan for both excellent internet coverage and speed.
Northern Pacific Airways Flycoin Loyalty Program
Cryptocurrency will be coming to travel rewards through FlyCoin, the loyalty program being launched in conjunction with Northern Pacific Airways. McKinney briefly touched on the loyalty system, saying that customers will be able to redeem their tokens for things beyond air travel with the airline.
Will it be revolutionary? Unlikely. Airlines already offer many ways to redeem miles. My guess is that the only new option will likely be the ability to sell your coins/tokens to others directly for cash.
It will be interesting to see if Northern Pacific is completely hands-off with their cryptocurrency rewards once they launch the system and will just let the market dictate what it is worth. Some tie to redemption for free flights will roughly fix the price. At least that’s what I’d imagine. This is all speculation.
Does This Just Sound Too Crazy?
During the Fireside chat with Joanna Bailey, CEO McKinney laid out his vision for the airline. He set the stage with a quick tidbit from a previous airline startup where USA today ran with the headline “Visionary? Or Lunatic?” after interviewing him. This is McKinney’s sixth airline adventure, so he is not without experience.
He answered his skeptics well. By using narrow-body aircraft, Northern Pacific can cut a lot of cost. They’ll also reduce the initial costs by operating used aircraft, although this will cost some in terms of fuel efficiency. Anchorage is not far off the great circle route of their proposed routes, and he is hopeful that even with the stop, people will be willing to fly the new airline due to the reduce costs and lessened time in the immigration and customs lines.
He then laid out their plans for the future. Operating wide-body aircraft didn’t seem out of the question. Ultimately, he hopes Northern Pacific will operate a fleet of 50 aircraft in 5 to 7 years. Big plans for an uncertain future. But you have to dream big to accomplish big things. We’ll see how things play out.
Launching a new airline is never easy. I can’t help but think of ill-fated WOW, another Iceland-based carrier. The one-stop business model sure didn’t work for them, but they were also an ultra-low-cost-carrier.
I’ve made one trip to Asia via Anchorage, and our stop in that case wasn’t planned. It was a long day, to say the least, and I’m not sure I’d be willing to brave two long narrow-body flights. Let’s hope McKinney is right.
The fact that Northern Pacific is not targeting demand to Alaska is surprising. Maybe the U.S. markets for demand to Asia and demand to Alaska don’t overlap much. This would surprise me, though. I’m would think most major cities would provide at least a reasonable amount of potential traffic to the Last Frontier.
Disclosure: Airfare and hotel expenses to attend the event were paid by Northern Pacific Airways. Opinions expressed are my own.