New Anchorage airline aims to bring year-round tourism to Alaska

A man standing and speaking in a big open room
Northern Pacific Airways CEO Rob McKinney discusses the new airline at an unveiling of their first class lounge at Ted Stevens Airport on June 21, 2023. (Maria Koop/Alaska Public Media)

The head of a new Anchorage-based airline said the company hopes to bring hundreds of jobs and a substantial increase in tourism business to Alaska.

Rob McKinney is CEO of FLOAT Alaska LLC, which owns Ravn Alaska, and he described Northern Pacific Airways as the next evolution of the Ravn brand, after it was resurrected from a 2020 bankruptcy.

McKinney was part of the ownership group that bought some of Ravn’s assets and rebranded as Ravn Alaska.

a lounge
Lounge seating in Northern Pacific Airways’ new North Terminal area at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. (Maria Koop/Alaska Public Media)

On Wednesday, Northern Pacific unveiled its new first class lounge in the North Terminal of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. McKinney said the new airline will employ 250 people locally, bring millions of dollars in tax revenue to Alaska and, eventually, maybe even billions to the economy by extending the tourism season.

“We believe that ultimately we can take the seasonality out of tourism in Alaska,” McKinney said. “And if you think about what that translates to, I mean, everyone just goes as hard as they can for three and a half, four months, but if you can translate that to 12 months, the amount of jobs that will be created, and not be seasonal anymore, it will just be transformative for the state.”

The company’s business model relies on Anchorage being a halfway point between the major cities in eastern Asia and the U.S.

Starting early next year, McKinney said, Northern Pacific will offer flights from cities in Japan and Korea to Anchorage, and then to Lower 48 destinations. Stopping in Anchorage means saving fuel, and he expects their flights to be 20% cheaper than those of nonstop competitors. He said the travel time will be comparable, because of the much shorter customs clearance experience in Anchorage than Los Angeles or New York airports, for example.

The concept has already been proven by Icelandair, McKinney said.

“Look at the Atlantic, you can easily go nonstop across the Atlantic,” he said. “Yet Icelandair has phenomenal business. They have 50 airplanes, and they all stop in Keflavík there in Iceland. So it can be done.”

A model airplane sits on the table
A display model of Northern Pacific Airway’s newest aircraft sits in the lounge at the Ted Stevens International Airport on June 21st, 2023. (Maria Koop/ Alaska Public Media)

By bringing year-round travelers, McKinney said, Iceland increased their tourism 500%. If Alaska were to even double its current tourism, that could boost tourism revenue by billions of dollars, he said.

RavnAir Group operated as the largest rural carrier in Alaska, until declaring bankruptcy in April 2020 due to a reported 90% loss of revenue amid a downturn in travel due to the pandemic. The filing also came in the wake of a 2019 crash in Unalaska, which resulted in only the second fatality for a commercial airline in the U.S. in the preceding decade.

Northern Pacific’s first flights will be between Los Angeles and Las Vegas starting July 14 as a proof of concept. Airline officials hope to have the trans-Pacific flights up and running by spring 2024.

Michael Fanelli reported on economics and hosted the statewide morning news at Alaska Public Media. 

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