In late June 2021 the details of a new airline startup in the United States were leaked. Over the weekend the details were officially publicly revealed, and we now have some more information as to what this airline could look like. This might just be the most creative and unusual airline startup we’ve seen in the United States in a long time, should it come to fruition (which I’d be very skeptical of for the time being)…
Ravn Alaska is a regional airline
Ravn Alaska is a regional airline in Alaska that has historically partnered with Alaska Airlines to offer service in smaller markets. In April 2020, shortly after coronavirus shut down the world, the airline suspended operations and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Fortunately by November 2020, Ravn Alaska was able to resume operations, as some investors purchased Ravn Alaska’s assets, and got the operation up and running again. A new CEO was appointed, and the airline is even looking to the future, and has signed a letter of intent to acquire 50 hybrid-electric aircraft in the future (whether or not that actually happens is a different story).
Well, now Ravn Alaska is looking an entirely new direction to expand.
Ravn Alaska launching new long haul airline
Ravn Alaska CEO Rob McKinney has unveiled the details of Northern Pacific Airways, a new long haul airline being planned by the management of Ravn Alaska. While the airline is early on in its development, here’s what the plans are:
- Ravn Alaska would launch a long haul airline known as Northern Pacific Airways, which would begin operations by the summer of 2022
- The airline would operate a fleet of roughly 10 ETOPS Boeing 757s using a low cost carrier business model
- The airline would be based out of the underutilized north terminal of Anchorage Airport
- The airline would fly to Asia (including Tokyo and Seoul), and to the lower 48 (including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, and San Francisco)
- It’s claimed that this business model could be launched without acquiring “excessive amounts of debt”
- This would be done in addition to Ravn Alaska’s current operations with Dash 8 turboprop aircraft
- As McKinney explains, “we are really digging into these numbers and are very certain of the value of what we’re going to be able to bring to the public”
Northern Pacific Airways would be looking to bring the Icelandair business model to the United States, in the sense that it would be turning a geographically advantageous place into a hub. The airline would also plan on offering stopover packages, to allow people to visit Alaska. This could come in the form of just staying in Anchorage for a couple of nights, or connecting on Ravn Alaska to elsewhere in the state.
My take on Northern Pacific Airways
As an aviation geek I love the concept of this airline:
- Anchorage in theory has great geography as a transpacific hub, and if I were to build a fake airline in some sort of a simulated game where money is no object, I’d totally launch an Anchorage-based Emirates, just for giggles (of course that’s different than this, which will be a low cost carrier)
- Back in the day Alaska Airlines flew to Russia and beyond, and I’d love so much if that kind of service still existed (again, simply because I’m an avgeek and the routemap would look cool)
- On the plus side, I imagine Boeing 757s could be acquired for very little; any airline startup right now has the huge advantage of there being lots of available used aircraft
- At least seasonally there’s a big tourist market for Alaska, and there’s not much direct service from Asia, or from non-hubs in the lower 48
That being said, I can’t wrap my head around this otherwise:
- Alaska is a highly seasonal tourist destination, so while the airline could probably make money a few months of the year, how would Northern Pacific Airways fill planes in the winter? Yes, there’s some winter tourism as well, but in all likelihood not enough to sustain an airline like this
- For those just connecting, I don’t understand the merit to this business model; airfare from Los Angeles to Seoul or San Francisco to Tokyo is already very reasonably priced, with tons of competition and nonstop options, so how low will Northern Pacific Airways’ pricing be to convince people to settle for a worse product and connecting itinerary?
There’s a key difference between this and Icelandair — Icelandair connects all kinds of city pairs that otherwise can’t be served nonstop (for example, Denver to Oslo, Seattle to Bergen, and Vancouver to Helsinki, just to name a few). Meanwhile with the exception of Orlando to Asia, the other markets are already really well served.
So yeah, this concept would be awesome for those who want a stopover in Alaska, or who want to visit Alaska. But I don’t view that as a sustainable, year-round business model.
Regional airline Ravn Alaska is planning on launching a new airline, which would be named Northern Pacific Airways. The airline would fly from Anchorage to both Asia and the lower 48 with Boeing 757s, using a low cost business model. The plan is for operations to launch by the summer of 2022.
As much as the avgeek side of me loves this concept, I don’t see where the market is for this, beyond summer seasonal demand. I’m sure the airline could get its costs really low, but still, what happens outside of summer?
What do you make of Northern Pacific Airways?