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NWA - NorthWest Airlines

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NWA - NorthWest Airlines - airline information




General information


NWA - NorthWest Airlines

NorthWest Airlines is one of the oldest air carriers. It was created in 1926 and was initially a cargo transporter in the northern United States. When the company was founded, it was called "NorthWest Airways".

At he beginning, the carrier has flown post between Chicago and Minneapolis.

In 1927 it had already started flying passengers and in 1928 it launched its first international route (to Winnipeg Canada). And, the following years brought even more success and a wider expansion.

The name of the company was swapped to "NorthWest Airlines" from "NorthWest Airways", following an air mail scandal.

After the Second World War, NorthWest Airlines has continued growing, already serving many major destinations in North America, the company had penetrated the Asian market too with flights to Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok, Taipei, Singapore and other places.

A big step towards even more success was made in the late 1940s, when the airline ordered Boeing 377 "Stratocruisers", which were the first double-decker planes that have entered the fleet in 1949. The company was able to provide better in-flight services and gained competitive advantage in front of its rivals.

In the following decades, especially in the 1970s, -80s, the airline jumped further in technical terms. The famous Boeing 747 "Jumbo Jets" have entered service, which have also meant an interesting attraction to the flyers. 

Today, NWA is (from some points of view), the World's 4th largest airline. The company is member of the One World Alliance along with American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, JAL, LAN Airlines, only to mention the biggest ones...

NWA is mostly active in the northern part of the USA and Asia.

The airline flies to more transpacific routes than any other US carrier. It is North America's top airline from the point of view of the number of Asian destinations.


Fact sheet


 General company information...

Official name: 

NorthWest Airlines


"Now you're flying smart"

IATA designator:


ICAO designator:



Eagan (Minnesota), USA





Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport - Minneapolis & Saint Paul, USA

Focus cities, regions,

secondary hubs:

Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Detroit Metro International Airport - Detroit (Michigan), USA

Honolulu International Airport - Honolulu (Hawaii), USA

Indianapolis Airport - Indianapolis (Indiana), USA

Memphis Airport - Memphis (Tennessee), USA

Narita International Airport - Japan

Number of destinations:


 Fleet & flights-related...

Fleet size:

513 (+50 orders)

Aircraft types used:

Airbus A319, Airbus A320, Airbus A330

Boeing 747, Boeing 757, Boeing 787

Accidents & incidents:

Total: 18 - Fatal cases: 6


Number of passengers:

58 million (2006)



Frequent flyer program:

World Perks

Other important issues:

- NWA transports more passengers above the Pacific than any other US airline

- the famous D.B. Cooper hijacking case took place in the 1970 involving a NorthWest Airlines aircraft




Over 250 cities are served directly by NorthWest. Other destinations can be reached through its partners from the SkyTeam Alliance and other partners with whom the company has code-share agreements.

The Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport is the primary hub of this air carrier and the airports of the following cities function as secondary: Amsterdam, Detroit, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Memphis, Tokyo. The Amsterdam hub is operated with its partner KLM and the hub at Tokyo's Narita International Airport serves important Asian destinations, serving also as a big intermediate hub between the USA and mainland Asia. Travelers flying from North America can now stop at Narita and change airplanes to fly further, deeper into the Asian continent.

NWA is responsible for over 1.500 daily departures.




Recently, NorthWest airlines has ordered Bombardier CRJ-900 and Embraer ERJ-175 airplanes. Both orders were for 36 aircraft respectively, with 96 options for the CRJ-900s and 36 options for the ERJ-175s.

Interestingly, the American airline has chosen to buy non-US-manufactured short-range aircraft. Bombardier is Canadian and Embraer is from Brazil.

NWA also expressed its desire to enter the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" into service, by the end of October 2008. 18 of these planes were ordered and there are options for possible additional purchases for 50 more.

The Douglas DC-9 and DC-10 airplanes will be retired. It is still unknown what type of aircraft will replace these 77 obsolete machines. The Embraer ERJ-190 and the Airbus 320 planes are being analyzed by NWA in order to find an adequate replacement type for the DCs.

ATA Airlines has shown interest in the purchase of the DC-10 aircraft.

NorthWest has also showed interest in the new Boeing 747-8, the latest version of the "Jumbo Jet". If the purchase will be made, the airline could be the launch customer for this aircraft.

NWA has retired a substantial number of 747-100 and 747-200 aircraft, while over a dozen newer, 747-400s were left to operate on Pacific routes and Asian ones.


Frequent flyer program


World Perks is the name of the frequent flyer program and it is harmonized with the other member carriers from within the SkyTeam Alliance.

With the SkyTeam Alliance, the frequent flyers can reach 3 levels: Premium, Elite and Elite Plus. The names of membership tiers differ from one carrier to another.


Activity & market position


Profitability and position on the global air travel market


NorthWest Airlines is among the World's biggest air carriers.

From the point of view of the fleet size, it is on the 4th place. NWA carries over 58 million passengers yearly.

If we look at the income, then the airline is on the 10th place, with 11,5 billion USD. Way behind Alitalia, Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qantas.

In terms of revenue-passenger-kilometers (RPK), NWA is the 3rd largest airline in the World.

NWA is undoubtedly not among the most profitable carriers. Even though its has a huge fleet, smaller carriers are more productive.

Following the 2001 September 11th attacks, NWA was hit hard, indirectly (it hasn't lost any aircraft in the attacks), from the financial point of view. The company was at the brink of bankruptcy, but before it started dropping too deep, it recovered, avoiding a fate similar to Swissair (which went bankrupt and disappeared as a brand from the air travel market).

78,6 % was the filling ration of the airplanes, which is in the average interval for the major US carriers.


Position on the US market


NWA is mostly active in the northern parts of the USA, especially around the Great Lakes and focuses on routes towards the west, mostly towards the northwestern USA and Pacific flights.

As mentioned above, the company is the dominant carrier between North America and Asia. Both in terms of passenger numbers and cargo amounts.

NorthWest Airlines has dominant position at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport, where it has its main base. This airport, under NWA's administration, was considered the most well organized US airport. NorthWest Airlines has a market share of 65 % at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport.

The airline also has dominant positions on the local air travel markets of: Milwaukee (60 % share), Detroit (60 % share) and has the biggest market share at Memphis (48 %), even though it is not dominating the airport.

Important presence of NWA can be noticed at airports near Chicago, Indianapolis, New York, Honolulu.

The company has weak presence in the southwestern United States, namely airports like Los Angeles International (LAX), Orlando International Airport, Las Vegas, Boston, Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth.

Main competitors are American Airlines, Delta (dominating the Atlanta airport), United Airlines and the low cost carriers SouthWest Airlines and JetBlue.

The first 3 biggest airlines in the World are all from the USA: American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines. American Airlines transports around 100 million travelers every year, which is almost double of what NorthWest manages.


Wholly-owned companies & stakes at other companies


NWA owns 2 regional carriers in the USA: 


Mesaba Airlines

Pinnacle Airlines


Merger with Delta Airlines


The 2 giants, NWA and Delta have agreed to form a new mega airline. The new carrier will bear the Delta emblem and brand name and will become the World's biggest airline in terms of fleet and passengers transported.               


Partnerships & alliances


NWA is part of the SkyTeam Alliance. Together, the member carriers serve over 728 airports and connect 149 countries. Over 373 million passengers are carried yearly.

NorthWest Airlines has multiple agreements, among which code-share and partnerships deals, with various air carriers from all over the World.


Here are NWA's most important partners:


Air France

Air Tahiti Nui

Alaska Airlines

American Airlines

Big Sky Airlines

Cebu Pacific

China Southern Airlines


Copa Airlines

Garuda Indonesia

Hawaiian Airlines

Horizon Airlines

Jet Airways

Kenya Airways

KLM - Royal Dutch Airlines

Malaysia Airlines

Malév – Hungarian Airlines

Mesaba Airlines

Pinnacle Airlines


Corporate culture


NWA has a well developed philosophy, a well established and deep corporate culture.

The company has a very clear vision of its goals...




To build together the first choice airline and global alliance network with the best people; each committed to exceeding our customers' expectations every day.”




"Run a great airline"

"Put customers first"

"Focus on people"

"Build our network"

"Secure our future"


The mysterious DB Cooper hijacking case


FBI portrait of D.B. Cooper (1972)

NorthWest Airlines was involved in the most mysterious airliner hijacking case in the World. It happened in 1971s...

On November 24th, 1971, an individual called "D.B. Cooper" boarded a NorthWest Airlines Boeing 727 at Portland's airport. 

While in flight, Cooper called a flight attendant and handed over a letter to her. But, the lady thought Cooper was flirting with her and he handed his phone number in the envelope.

Then, Cooper leaned closer to the flight attendant and said: "Miss, you'd better look at that note. I have a bomb.". The stewardess then opened the envelope and took a look at the note which said: "I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.". The message was told to the captain, William Schaffner, who contacted the nearby Seattle airport, which instructed him to cooperate with the hijacker. Then, he told the flight attendant to sit next to him.

D.B. Cooper slightly opened his case and showed the content to the flight attendant sitting next to him: she saw red sticks interconnected with wires.

Cooper told the stewardess to tell the captain to land at Seattle Tacoma International Airport. He also asked for 4 parachutes and 200.000 $ in cash. The 4 parachutes were allegedly for the 2 pilots, the flight attendant and him. But, in reality, this was just a trick, he wanted to make sure that they were genuine and not fakes.

Except Cooper, there were 35 passengers and 6 crew members. He promised to release the passengers in exchange for the 200.000 dollars and the 4 chutes. When the plane landed, he kept his promise and allowed the passengers to leave.

After the exchange, Cooper ordered the pilot to take the jet back into the air and head towards Mexico. He gave exact parameters, they had to fly at 10.000 ft (about 3.300 m), with a low speed, landing gear down and 15 degrees of flap.

The US Air Force sent F-106 fighter jets, which followed the plane, but did not have good visibility due to the cloudy weather.

Cooper climbed down into the "belly" of the Boeing 727, fastened a parachute to himself and took a jump with the cash. Nor the F-106s, nor the crew, nor anyone in the ground noticed that he has jumped.

It was thought that he has jumped somewhere in the southern part of the state Washington, possible not far from the Columbia River. Ever since, no clear evidence was found about who the hijacker really was. The name "D.B. Cooper" proved to be a pseudonym, fake name. The whereabouts of the real person were unknown until a number of suspects were found and some of them sent to jail for a while. Physically similar individuals and weak evidence weren't enough to uncover the mystery.

The money wasn't found and the true identity of the hijacker wasn't discovered either.

Around 5.800 $ were washed out by the Columbia River and collected by children. Parts from the plane were also found.

The money found consisted of 20 $ bills which all had the codes that were previously recorded by the FBI (before the money was given to D.B. Cooper at the Seattle airport). Even if he had survived, he couldn't have spend the money without being discovered. No sign of anyone spending the selected bills was ever detected.

Numerous treasure hunters have ventured out to search for the 200.000 $ in the vast forest, near the riverbanks...

So far, the money and Cooper still remain an unsolved mystery.


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 Last modified/updated: November 20, 2009


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