Northern Pacific Airways recently announced plans to launch flights between Ontario International Airport in Southern California and Las Vegas starting June 4. The announcement came as a surprise to many, as Northern Pacific was initially launched as an airline to connect the US and Asia via a hub in Anchorage using 757s.
Transpacific still the goal
That remains the ultimate goal, but Northern Pacific Airways has faced challenges with those long-haul plans. The closure of Russian airspace has meant that the 757s in question would need ETOPS certification to fly to Asia – a complicated process the airline hadn’t initially bargained for. Also causing delays, sources say, the foreign flying regulatory approval process has been slower than expected. The airline is said to be working on some potential partnerships that could help overcome these obstacles, but didn’t provide any further details.
Why Las Vegas?
Sources close to the airline say there are several reasons why the Las Vegas route was chosen in the interim, including what they say is strong demand for flights from the Los Angeles-area and the fact that their aircraft are already currently based at Ontario International Airport (ONT).
The airline is actively seeking casino partners for charters and will be positioning the aircraft in Las Vegas over the weekends specifically to make them available for such flights. The short operational mission length of the flights is also optimal for start-up services as crew get used to operating the aircraft.
The airline said that the route has been selling well since it launched and that it can easily add more flights if needed, with so much spare capacity.
The potential of Ontario (ONT)
The airline has also pointed to the convenience and ease of travel from Ontario International Airport compared to LAX for a large number of people. While those living on the westside of LA may disagree, it’s no doubt in a highly populated area.
Ontario International Airport serves the Inland Empire region of Southern California, which includes San Bernardino County and Riverside County. As of the 2020 U.S. Census, the population of San Bernardino County was estimated at 2.18 million, while the population of Riverside County was estimated at 2.49 million. This gives a total catchment area population of over 4.6 million people, which makes it the 12th largest metropolitan area in the United States. Not to mention that the airport is located just 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, meaning those in parts of LA proper might also find it’s a convenient option if the price is right.
Reactions to the Las Vegas service have been mixed. Some have praised the airline for offering a unique charter option, which could appeal to groups traveling to the city for special events or occasions. However, there are also some concerns and criticisms about the airline’s long-term viability and ability to compete with larger airlines that already offer flights to Las Vegas.
Northern Pacific Airways has two Boeing 757-200 in the fleet currently. The first one, registered N627NP, was unveiled with the Northern Pacific livery in January 2022, which the second is registered N628NP. Both started their careers with USAir (later US Airways and then American Airlines) in 1995. Both are powered by Rolls Royce RB211 engines.
The airline says a third will be joining soon – and has said it has plans to grow the fleet quite a bit more in the coming years, though no doubt that will depend to a large extent on progress with ETOPS certification.
One to watch
Northern Pacific Airlines’ new service to Las Vegas represents a significant step for the airline as it means the launch of actual operations – assuming they do launch as planned. It will be interesting to see how it fares in a highly competitive landscape with such a small service.