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Startup international airline Northern Pacific will fly to Mexico instead of Japan and Korea due to Russian airspace restrictions

Insider Asia logo Insider Asia 6/8/2022 trains@insider.com (Taylor Rains)
Northern Pacific Airways Boeing 757 aircraft. Northern Pacific Airways © Northern Pacific Airways Northern Pacific Airways Boeing 757 aircraft. Northern Pacific Airways
  • New US startup Northern Pacific Airways applied for permission to fly from California to Mexico this winter.
  • CEO Rob McKinney told Insider the filing is a "blanket request" and did not reveal specific destinations.
  • The carrier initially planned to fly to Japan and South Korea but closed Russian airspace is delaying its goal.

Alaska-based startup Northern Pacific Airways is changing its business plan to fly to Mexico instead of Asia.

On Wednesday, the new airline applied for permission from the US Department of Transportation to fly scheduled service to Mexico. The latest development changes the carrier's original plan to connect the US to Japan and South Korea via Anchorage using the Boeing 757 jet.

According to the DOT filing, Northern Pacific intends to "to start scheduled service between the United States and Mexico with its B-757 aircraft later this year."

CEO Rob McKinney told Insider that the DOT filing is a "blanket request" to operate in Mexico but did not offer any specific destinations. However, he said Central America is also on the table, saying, "we ask for more than we need and then figure out the details later."

He emphasized that the goal to launch by the end of 2022 is still on track because they have pilots and flight attendants, and McKinney "doesn't want to stop that momentum."

"We already had a maintenance base set up in Ontario, California, so it made sense because there are several destinations with enough traffic in Mexico that we could start more quickly than we could if we launched with a full business model connecting Asia to North America," he said.

While the change is surprising considering its initial business model, McKinney told Insider that the carrier has "come across some stumbling blocks" that will push back its Asia timeline but not prevent it from eventually flying to Japan and South Korea. 

The CEO specified that Anchorage would not be a destination for Northern Pacific until they work out the Asia routes.

According to McKinney, the main reason Northern Pacific is changing course to Mexico is due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, western nations retaliated with sanctions to punish President Vladimir Putin, including closing European Union and US airspace.

In response, Russia implemented its own airspace restrictions to keep airlines from countries including the US out.

As a result, airlines have been forced to detour around Russia and add hours of extra flight time. Because Northern Pacific plans to fly the Boeing 757, the plane is not able to circumvent Russia without ETOPS certifications, which stands for Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards.

This is a certification that allows twin-engine aircraft to fly routes that, at times, are more than 60 minutes from the nearest airport when operating on just one engine. 

While it cannot currently use its own metal to fly to Asia, McKinney told Insider that the carrier plans to codeshare on those routes instead but did not say which airline it is partnering with.

Those flights are scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2023, at the latest, with Northern Pacific planes flying the routes in about 18 months once it gets its ETOPS certification.

In the interim, while Northern works out the regulator kinks in going to Japan and South Korea, Mexico has proven to be a more realistic option.t

"As ironic as it is to fly airplanes south when you're Northern Pacific, that's what we're doing," McKinney said.

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