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North Pacific flies to Mexico instead of Asia because of Russia

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  • US startup Northern Pacific Airways applied for permission to fly from California to Mexico this winter.
  • Chief Executive Rob McKinney told insiders that the submission was a “lump bill” and didn’t provide a specific address.
  • The carrier was originally planning to fly to Japan and South Korea, but closed Russian airspace has delayed that 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 to the U.S. Department of Transportation for permission to fly scheduled flights to Mexico. The latest development changes the airline’s original plans to connect the United States with Japan and South Korea via Anchorage using Boeing 757 jets.

According to a DOT filing, Northern Pacific Airlines plans to “commence scheduled service between the United States and Mexico later this year with B-757 aircraft.”

CEO Rob McKinney told insiders that the DOT application was a “batch request” to do business in Mexico, but did not disclose specific destinations. But he said Central America is also on the table, saying, “We want more than we need and we’ll figure out the details later.”

He stressed that with pilots and flight attendants still on track to launch by the end of 2022, McKinney “doesn’t want to stop that momentum.”

“We had already set up a maintenance base in Ontario, Calif. We have several destinations in Mexico that have enough traffic, so if we launched a full business model connecting Asia and North America, It makes sense because we can get started quickly,” he said.

The change is surprising given the original business model, but McKinney told Insider that the airline “encountered some setbacks.” This will delay the timeline for Asia, but will not ultimately prevent flights to Japan and South Korea.

The CEO has made it clear that Anchorage will not become a North Pacific destination until the Asia route is completed.

According to McKinney, the main reason the North Pacific is changing course to Mexico is due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Western powers retaliated with sanctions punishing President Vladimir Putin and closed European Union and US airspace.

In response, Russia implemented its own airspace restrictions, keeping airlines out of countries including the United States.

As a result, airlines were forced to bypass Russia and extend flight times by hours. Northern Pacific will fly a Boeing 757, which cannot bypass Russia without his ETOPS certification.

This is a certification that allows a twin-engine aircraft to fly on only one engine, possibly on routes more than 60 minutes away from the nearest airport.

Currently, flights to Asia can’t use their own metal, but McKinney told Insider that the airline plans to codeshare on those routes instead, but it doesn’t partner with any airlines. He did not disclose whether he did.

These flights are scheduled to start in the second quarter of 2023 at the latest, and the route will be flown by North Pacific aircraft within about 18 months of obtaining ETOPS certification.

In the interim, Northern is working out regulatory kinks by going to Japan and South Korea, but Mexico is proving to be a more viable option.t

“It’s ironic to fly planes south when you’re in the North Pacific, but that’s what we do,” McKinney said.