With its first aircraft fully retrofit and ready to fly, Northern Pacific Airways is on the hunt for a destination market. The company is touring islands in the Pacific, hoping to find the right partners with which the service can take off.
The routing took the plane from Ontario, California to Maui, Hawaii. After a quick overnight rest the plane continued to Saipan, Northern Marianas Islands, where it spent three days. While in the islands the company met with potential US, Pan Pacific, and other Asian partners. Finally, the aircraft continued to Anchorage to wrap up the delivery trip.
This first flight is a major milestone for Northern Pacific Airways as it heads toward service launch. Northern Pacific Airways will bring the world closer to the Alaskan traditions of freedom, friendship, and exploration with a cost-effective option.– Rob McKinney, CEO of Northern Pacific Airways
The Pacific island option comes as Northern Pacific continues to search for the best market in which to launch service. Its plans to fly to Japan and Korea were waylaid by the restricted access to Russian airspace as part of sanctions associated with the invasion of Ukraine. The carrier also is working to gain access to serve Mexico, with the US Department of Transportation granting Exemption Authority earlier this year. The carrier must still receive Certificate Authority to launch the operations. But the Pacific islands are the new primary target for the airline.
Saipan is right at the edge of the published range for the 757-200; the trip to Anchorage took 8 hours and 30 minutes in the air. But Saipan’s connectivity to the rest of the world is very, very limited. Adding a new operator could prove a win for the carrier and the islands alike. And, with the right partners to help sell the operations, Northern Pacific could help enable a tourism boost for the islands.
Historically the Northern Marianas Islands saw some inbound tourism traffic from China. While the zero-Covid policy there makes that rebound unlikely in the near future, there is potential to market the islands to Japan and Korea as an alternative to Guam or Hawaii. And the flights are well within the range of a 757-200.
Whether demand exists for routing between Saipan and the mainland via Anchorage is less clear, though that was the original business plan for the Northern Pacific operation. But that plan depended on multiple destinations on each side of the hub. With just Saipan as a market the onward feed from multiple mainland markets would be very challenging.
The Saipan plan also presents a major technical challenge for Northern Pacific: ETOPS. Gaining certification to operate longer overwater trips is no easy feat. The company initially planned to skip that certification, operating to Japan and Korea with enough diversion points along the Alaskan and Russian coast lines, building experience towards ETOPS authorization. Saipan cannot be operated – either from Anchorage or Eastern Asia – without ETOPS.
One option to address that was to wet lease planes from Iceland. Those would come with the crew and certification to operate the longer overwater routes. This would include launching the Japan or Korea routes without access to Russian airspace. Whether that plan moves forward, however, would depend on which markets the carrier ultimately picks to connect. A company spokesperson confirmed that the wet-lease option is an “evolving” situation, suggesting launch plans remain in flux.
Ultimately, Northern Pacific sees local tour operators as a key to building the operation. That was the case back when Korea and Japan were the target markets and remains so in Saipan. Whether any markets can be developed, however, given the geopolitical climate and the ETOPS challenges, remains to be seen.
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