Business/Economy

New international airline plans $6 million upgrade at Anchorage airport

An upstart airline that plans to connect Asian cities with the Lower 48, with Anchorage as a hub, is launching a $6 million project to upgrade a portion of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

Northern Pacific Airways, an affiliate of rural Alaska flier Ravn Alaska, plans to make improvements at the North Terminal, including a theater area that seats 50 where visitors to the terminal can watch short clips about Alaska.

The company, which plans to start flying in November, will also build a lounge and bar area for its customers with a live-screen projection, showing wild Alaska bears or the Northern Lights, officials said. An office area will be renovated for flight crews and other employees.

The renovation is scheduled to be completed in August, said Rob McKinney, chief executive of both airlines.

Northern Pacific Airways plans to provide year-round travel to destinations such as Tokyo, Seoul, Orlando and Los Angeles. The company is upgrading Boeing 757-200s that once flew for American Airlines. It has created a cryptocurrency-based mileage rewards program.

Northern Pacific hopes to steer some passengers to rural Alaska after they land in Anchorage, McKinney said. That will supplement business for Ravn Alaska’s operation across much of the state, he said.

Northern Pacific initially plans to move about 1,000 passengers daily, on eight flights. It plans to employ about 300 people, he said.

“The goal here is to bring Anchorage back to life as a passenger hub,” McKinney said.

International passenger flights once frequently stopped in Anchorage, but they dwindled in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union fell apart and airspace over Russia opened, said Craig Campbell, interim director of the airport.

That, and longer-range jets coming on line, reduced international airlines’ reliance on Anchorage.

McKinney said the company sees promise in offering flights that replicate the airport’s current prominence as a stop for international cargo flights.

[Why Anchorage’s international airport is such a big cargo destination — and how it could get even bigger]

Bill Popp, head of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., said the renovations will be a “significant move forward” for the North Terminal. The terminal was busy when Anchorage was known as the “crossroads of the world,” before international passenger traffic declined, he said.

“This will offer a new opportunity for us to regain some international travel,” Popp said. “It will open up opportunities for tourism and for international commerce in Anchorage.”

On Friday, McKinney joined city and state officials in a symbolic “wall-breaking,” smashing through drywall with gold-colored sledgehammers to start the renovations for the office space.

Mayor Dave Bronson, speaking at the event, said the new airline will bring opportunity and tourism.

“This is what progress looks like,” said Mayor Dave Bronson, speaking at the event. “This is, we hope, what the end of COVID looks like, getting back to normal growing and bringing a little prosperity back to the state and especially to the city.”

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or alex@adn.com.

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