Northern Pacific startup buys six Boeing 757s to launch operations


Ambitious startup Northern Pacific Airways secured its first six Boeing 757s ahead of the scheduled launch of operations. The first 757 is currently under maintenance and is expected to arrive in Alaska by December. Simple Flying sat down with startup airline CEO Rob McKinney to learn more about the plans for this nascent airline.

Northern Pacific secured their first six 757-200s. Photo: North Pacific

Meet the first Boeing 757

Alaska-based Northern Pacific Airways is getting closer to launch as it exclusively revealed to Simple Flying that it has secured its first six Boeing 757s. The first is currently registered with tail number N206UW and is a 757 -200 26-year-old Rolls-Royce engine with a pretty impressive pedigree.

The aircraft entered service with America West in 1995, operating for nine years before America West took over US Airways. As America West took the name of US Airways, the jet was registered under that designation. It remained there until the merger with American Airlines in 2013. American continued to fly the 757 until January 2020, when it was withdrawn from service.

The 757 remained the property of AerSale, a major leasing company. RadarBox.com shows its last flight on March 28e, 2020, when transported from Mobile, AL, to Roswell, NM for storage. The aircraft is currently undergoing a full C check before having its new livery and arriving in Alaska for the North Pacific. At this point, it will take the registration number N627NP.

N206UW
N206UW in its former life for American Airlines. Photo: Mark Harkin via Wikimedia

Speaking to Simple Flying, Rob McKinney, CEO of Northern Pacific Airways, expressed his enthusiasm for the initial purchase, adding that five more have already been secured for the airline. He said,

“It’s from AerSale. They have half a dozen planes that are ex American Airlines… We’re still in talks with several other sources of planes to meet our target of 12 planes for the planned launch.

McKinney expects the first 757s to arrive in Alaska in December. He wants to have a fleet of 12 planes in-house ahead of launch, which he will hopefully target for some time in 2022. With everything in place, he expects more 757s to arrive in Alaska or so. every six weeks from launch.

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Monsieur “immediately”

Choosing a quarter-century-old 757 for a new airline might seem a little odd when there are more efficient and modern planes out there. But, as McKinney explained, it was a choice made out of necessity rather than love for the plane.

“We see the 757 as not ‘Mr right’ but ‘Mr now’. We can acquire them as soon as possible. And for us, we really believe that timing is the game for this opportunity to maximize the post-COVID world. The 757 is not only readily available, but it can also lengthen the scene.

North Pacific
Northern Pacific Airways plans to start a fleet of 12,757 but wants to increase to 50 planes within four or five years. Photo: North Pacific

While the 757 has been the backbone of Icelandair’s stopover operations, Northern Pacific will not necessarily be limited to just one type of fleet. Considering a fleet of 50 planes in the coming years, McKinney is keenly considering other planes that would suit an expanded fleet in the future. He explained,

“We plan to increase that number to 50 aircraft over the next four to five years. You can’t evolve to that degree with this vintage aircraft, so we’re definitely looking at the next gen, the 737 MAX or the A321XLR, something like that.

Although the airline is aiming for a low-cost operation, the CEO has not completely ruled out the possibility of integrating larger aircraft in the longer term. He noted,

“Widebodies are not on the table to go. We really think there is a lot of traffic to support this narrow body model. But, as we move towards that goal of 50 planes, we certainly see that widebody jets will be in our future. “

North Pacific
In the longer term, the fleet could also include large aircraft. Photo: North Pacific

A premium economy to present

While Northern Pacific maintains a low cost structure, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be a slightly better than average cabin product on board. McKinney noted that the economical full load of the 757 would not be attractive, given the long stage lengths it intends to operate. To de-densify the cabin, the airline plans to include a small premium budget product, as McKinney explained,

“We will probably have a reduced premium cabin. we did not define exactly the number of seats or the amenities. But we have to have a density such that we can do those long scenes, so it makes sense to have a bit of premium economy. But it won’t be like a full-service classroom with flat seats or anything like that.

Having a slightly more premium product on board would make Northern Pacific closer to Norwegian than to Icelandair. Icelandair is a full-service carrier and therefore has business class on board its 757. However, this is almost light business, with 22 reclining seats in a 2-2 configuration in its “Saga” business class.

Delta has premium economy on its 757s: a 3-3 layout with more legroom compared to the standard economy, which is probably more in line with what Northern Pacific has in mind.

Delta Comfort +
Delta’s Comfort + is probably a good measure of the kind of premium economy we can expect in the North Pacific. Photo: Delta Air Lines

The North Pacific business model is based on Anchorage’s unique positioning as an intermediate stopover point between Asia and the Lower 48. Taking inspiration from Icelandair, the carrier plans to beat its direct connect rivals in terms of price, but could also offer a much better passenger experience too. McKinney noted,

“The customs clearance and immigration in Anchorage, with an FIS that is only used by us versus a queue at LAX or San Francisco, we think it will be a much superior experience. And then, too, we want to make people understand that they can spend an extra day or two here and see what Alaska has to offer.

McKinney is already in talks with tourist boards about how Alaska can take advantage of the layover market and is taking a lot of inspiration from the successful program already in place in Iceland. Currently Alaska is considered a somewhat seasonal destination, but so too was Iceland. Thanks to the efforts of airlines and tourism stakeholders, the island now welcomes visitors all year round who always have something extraordinary to do.

A love for Alaska

Rob McKinney’s vision for the North Pacific has certainly raised eyebrows in the aviation world. But those naysayers should dig into his credentials before seeing it as some sort of pipe dream. In addition to being a trained Learjet pilot himself, McKinney has an impressive track record of turning around failing airlines and building successful businesses from next to nothing.

In 2002, he became vice president and director of Pacific Wings, a Hawaiian suburban airline, and under his leadership tripled passenger traffic in just three years. Then he joined Mokulele Airlines in Hawaii as COO and successfully converted the airline from a small air travel company to a fully scheduled commuter airline. These are just a few of the pies that Rob McKinney’s magical fingers have spurred growth in.

Ravn Alaska
Rob McKinney has an impressive track record of success in aviation. Photo: Ravn Alaska

Most recently, McKinney co-founded FLOAT (Fly Over All Traffic) Shuttle Inc., a suburban and corporate transportation service in Southern California. The FLOAT team, under the leadership of Rob, acquired Ravn Alaska. The airline had closed its doors amid the COVID crisis and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Its 135 airlines were sold in pieces to other airlines in Alaska, but its 121 airlines, Ravn Alaska and PenAir, were sold to FLOAT.

McKinney is not originally from Alaska, originally from Indiana. But his experiences with Ravn gave him a love for the state that made him want to give back. Speaking to KTUU in July this year, he commented:

“It has been a fantastic and exciting time. I fell in love with this state and the people here. It has been the best year of my life to be able to restore service and restore those jobs. “

Ravn Alaska
Ravn Alaska remains a key element of the future business plan. Photo: Ravn Alaska

Ravn remains a part of the plans for the launch of Northern Pacific. As the national airline rebuilds its networks with its Dash 8 turboprop engines, McKinney sees it as a fundamental part of the layover model, capable of transporting arrivals from Anchorage to explore the state. The addition of eSTOL aircraft in the future will make this operation even better.

Northern Pacific’s success will also be a massive victory for the state of Alaska. In addition to the tourism boom that this model has the potential to stimulate, and all the economic benefits that come with it, McKinney estimates that the airline will generate around 450 jobs in the short term, of which 300 will be based in Anchorage.

Let us know what you think of this ambitious startup’s plans in the comments.

About Theresa Burton

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