Reborn Ravn eyes launch of Asian routes for 2022

A Ravn Alaska flight lands in Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. (Hope McKenney/KUCB)

Reborn airline Ravn Alaska has hired several people to study new daily, year-round trans-Pacific service that could launch as soon as next summer, according to its chief executive.

The company, which right now operates solely inside Alaska, would fly between Asian hubs and destinations in the Lower 48, with stops in Anchorage for passengers to clear customs — and, potentially, to visit some tourist attractions, said Rob McKinney, Ravn’s chief executive.

Ravn’s service would have to compete with companies that offer nonstop flights between Asia and the continental U.S. But McKinney said that by using smaller, “narrow-body” jets — those with a single aisle — seats could be sold for less than existing airlines that use larger planes.

A white man in a bue button-up and a lanyard with a commpany id rests his elbow on the ticket counter in front of a Ravn sign
Rob McKinney, Ravn’s chief executive (Hope McKenney/KUCB)

“We also think that the process of clearing customs and immigration in Alaska would be far superior and less painful than some of the more busy airports in the Lower 48,” McKinney said in an interview Tuesday.

McKinney said Ravn has hired three or four people who are working full-time on developing the company’s plans, though they’re far from solid. Ravn is looking at several options to raise the money needed to launch the service, he added, but he declined to release any details.

“We’re definitely shooting for 2022,” he said.

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While Ravn’s initial plans would be geared toward travelers between the Lower 48 and Asian cities like Tokyo and Seoul, McKinney said that, ultimately, he sees potential in making Anchorage a tourism stopover like Iceland often is for people flying between the U.S. and Europe.

“Instead of connecting across a couple hours, you connect across a couple days and then you get to go dog sledding or salmon fishing or all these wonderful things you can do here,” he said.

RELATED: California entrepreneurs launched a business to fly over L.A. traffic. Now, they will operate Ravn’s routes.

Ravn currently operates 10 planes between Anchorage and rural hub communities, and it’s set to put an 11th into service soon.

Its current majority owner is a family trust of California entrepreneur and Bitcoin investor Josh Jones.

Ravn emerged from bankruptcy last year after COVID-19 hammered its revenue, and McKinney said it returned to profitability this spring. The company says it’s confident it could launch the new service without taking on what McKinney calls “excessive debt,” which sank the previous incarnation of the company.

McKinney said Ravn hopes its new service could fly out of the underused North Terminal at Anchorage’s international airport.

Officials there said they haven’t seen a detailed proposal from Ravn but are eagerly awaiting one.

“We will be here to support those operations when and if they happen,” said Trudy Wassel, the airport’s deputy manager.

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Nat Herz covers government, politics, environment and COVID-19 for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at nherz@alaskapublic.org.

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