SAN BERNADINO – During the Northern Pacific livery reveal event, we got to sit down with CEO Rob McKinney and press him with some questions about the airline.
Rob McKinney is the CEO of both Ravn Alaska and Northern Pacific. In this interview, he mentions that both companies are not sisters, but rather one large firm.
This quick interview that we got with him will go over the airline’s ethos to launch, reasons for its route picks as well as future aircraft he has in mind.
Without further ado, enjoy the interview!
TS: Rob, thank you for taking the time to speak to AviationSource. So explain to me what is the ethos behind Northern Pacific?
RM: Well, I’ve been a big fan of Icelandair for a few years. I’ve watched what they’ve done and we think that our opportunity since we’re already located in Anchorage is that we have the perfect opportunity to replicate what it is that they do.
So if you do a great circle routing between almost anywhere in Asia and anywhere in the continental US, you fly right over the top of Anchorage. The entire north terminal there has eight empty gates sitting there just ready for us to start. So it seemed like it was just a business model begging to be done.
TS: Absolutely, the parallel can be drawn there. Is that why the airline chose the Boeing 757, in a way of basing it off what they were doing?
RM: It’s down to the fact that the aircraft were available. While there might be advantages to having aircraft with newer technologies, you can’t just go and get them as they are not available. So we see [the 757] as an opportunity with a finite window. And getting going sooner rather than later is super important to us.
TS: I read that your kind of wishlist is to obviously serve Japan and South Korea initially on an international scale. Is there any reason for those places rather than others?
RM: Pre-COVID, there’s a lot of traffic that goes between those two places as they are open skies countries and are within the range of the 757.
TS: Reading through your team list on the Northern Pacific website, your operations people all have Boeing in their titles. Is that a hint at where the fleet could be going in the future or is it just how this happens to be because you are starting operations with the 757?
RM: It is down to what the necessity is. With us starting out with the 757, I needed to recruit people with a high depth of knowledge about the aircraft. So it is not really meant to be any foreshadowing of what the future might be for the carrier. I wouldn’t read into it too much.
TS: The U.S domestic market is in quite a saturated way, especially with the presence of low-cost and legacy carriers. Do you think Northern Pacific has the potential to attract passengers just from America to Anchorage or do you think it will be mostly passengers traveling through the area to onwards destinations?
RM: It will definitely be passengers that travel through, but we eventually want those that will pause their travel and stopover in Anchorage. It will mostly be origin and destination traffic, but the lion’s share will be connected.
TS: Some of the routes that you are looking at down in California and this sort of area in the U.S, would South America ever interest you in the future, or is the focus purely on the U.S and Asia at this time?
RM: No, we are looking at lots of different places. Certainly Europe, but that’s going to have to require some different kind of equipment. I am keen to keep Anchorage as a hub but obviously, with the range of the 757, we could only go as far as Seoul westbound and Orlando eastbound.
TS: So with Ravn Air Alaska and Northern Pacific being the same company, is it going to be the case where example if you are flying from New York to Asia, you could throw in a flight somewhere in Alaska to sightsee and then carry on to Asia that way?
RM: Absolutely. That’s the whole stopover opportunity and then we will be partners with activity providers. So you can fly to someplace else [through Ravn Air Alaska] and go salmon fishing or dog sledding on the glacier or all of the wonderful things that Alaska has to offer.
TS: The Boeing 757 is obviously less environmentally sustainable than some of the new aircraft in the market at present. How do you think people might question that sort of thing in the future and is it the case that everyone is happy just to see the airline get going and that sort of thing?
RM: We have lots of initiatives along those lines and the 757 is only being used to get us going. We are already in talks with both Boeing and Airbus about what the next generation’s going to look like, which will definitely be more fuel-efficient aircraft.
We are also closely watching the manufacturers’ approach to alternative fuels. When that comes along, it could go a long way. We are looking at a partnership also with companies that can convert our Dash 8 fleet to operate with hydrogen fuel.
TS: So you mentioned that you are in talks with Boeing and Airbus at the moment. Is there any kind of aircraft type that you have in mind or is it seeing what they can offer to you as an airline?
RM: Well right now they have not shared with me what might be on the drawing board, but it’s going to be either the 737-9 MAX or the A321XLR that can really fit the bill for us.
TS: Rob, thank you so much for speaking to AviationSource. It’s been a pleasure.
RM: You’re welcome, Thomas.
What remains clear is that McKinney is very eager to get this airline up and running, especially with the empty slots at Anchorage awaiting to be used.
Considering no one else is doing it, Northern Pacific may be onto a winner when it comes to using Anchorage like how Icelandair uses its own country.
Offering that USP of a stopover in one of the seven wonders of the world and then continuing onwards to either the mainland United States or Asia, Northern Pacific is definitely one to watch, especially if they make their competitors sweat.
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