MIAMI — The Eastern Air Lines brand seems to be far from gone and forgotten. The iconic and historic airline name will—pending on DOT approval—take off on point-to-point missions to the Caribbean, South America, and even Asia.
In a letter addressed to the airline’s employees, current Eastern Airlines CEO, Steve Harfst, noted that “in support of the development of our new corporate website and the promotion of our new business plan, we have been working very hard getting the new Eastern Airlines ready for take-off.”
The new, new Eastern (now incorporated under Eastern Airlines, LLC), emerged from bankrupt Dynamic International Airways in 2018, which held all the intellectual rights over the iconic airline name, inherited from sister charter company, Swift Air.
Eastern has focused on charter services to a myriad of operators scattered throughout North America and Europe with its fleet of eight Boeing 767-200/300 aircraft.
Most recently, Eastern operated ACMI charters for Sunwing Airlines, one of the affected carriers by the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX.
But with the end of the summer season rapidly approaching, the revived Eastern Airlines seems poised to come back with a boisterous business plan.
Wide Bodies Coming Up?
As reported by Mark Porter, CEO of PA Coastal Airways Route Consultants—an insider who gave Airways all the latest information on the third rebirth of Eastern Airlines—the carrier is expected to launch services with a fleet of second-hand Boeing 767-300 and 777-200 aircraft.
Porter notes that the new Eastern is expected to acquire a fleet of several Boeing 767 and 777s, with at least five second-hand 777-200s joining in by May 2020.
Steve Harfst confirmed in his letter that the airline’s intentions are big. “We have been very busy investing in the infrastructure necessary to promote a successful scheduled service network,” he wrote. “We believe that there are strong market opportunities open to Eastern Airlines to provide limited frequency, non-stop service between international markets and the United States.”
In 2018, Eastern Airlines applied for nonstop flights to Guayaquil (GYE), Georgetown (GEO), Anchorage (ANC), and Jinan (TNA), in China, from its proposed hub at New York (JFK).
The airline’s initial routes to South America are presumed to launch during the fourth quarter of the present year, whereas the service to China will open up once the first 777 aircraft arrives in 2020.
“Eastern will give back precious time to our passengers by saving them from multiple stops and the hassle od airport connections,” the CEO wrote in his letter,” highlighting the fact that the airline’s business plan will be focused on a point-to-point rather than hub-and-spoke network.
New Headquarters, Logo, Corporate Image
According to the airline’s CEO, the construction of Eastern’s new Systems Operations Control center in Wayne, Pennsylvania, is on its last phase of completion, ready to be occupied by the carrier’s staff on September 1.
Together with the new headquarters, the airline will also be unveiling its all-new website, where passengers will be able to book all the scheduled Eastern Airlines services with ease.
The new website, which will go live at goeasternair.com, is reportedly designed around an all-new logo, which, according to Harfst, is inspired by “Eastern’s rich and iconic history” together with its “future being an ‘Explorer’ brand.” The logo is modeled after topographical maps of the destinations the carrier intends to serve.
“Our main map logo is not tied to any one geographic location,” he explains, “but represents the universal space we all share as global citizens among the places we fly.”
Harfst added that the airline will feature “supporting logos and designs unique to each market we will serve, inspired by the local colors and geography of each individual market.”
Will This Work?
According to Airline Analyst, Henry Harteveldt, the big challenge that a well-funded venture like the new Eastern Airlines has ahead of them is the viability of its proposed routes to South America and China.
“I question the viability of the routes they have chosen,” Harteveldt says. “Going to secondary destinations in South America and in China is definitely a big challenge.”
Mark Porter tells Airways that the new Eastern will initially fly from JFK to select destinations in Peru, Ecuador, and Guyana—all of which are currently unserved by other carriers.
But Harteveldt counters that if there really was a market for those niche routes, carriers like American Airlines—the number-one US carrier in Latin America—would be already serving it, or at least marginally.
“The primary US gateway to South America is in Miami, not New York,” Harteveldt notes. “Los Angeles and New York are the two largest gateways between the US and China, but Miami is number-one when it comes to Latin America.”
Currently, American Airlines runs a gigantic schedule of more than 170 daily flights to 53 destinations in 18 countries in Latin America. Tapping into this well-dominated market might be a risky move, Harteveldt reckons.
However, Airways Business Analyst, Vinay Bhaskara, thinks that Eastern does have a slight chance at being successful. “I believe they should stay out of primary markets, tackling only VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives) and non-traditional tourist destinations that are off the radar of the major airlines,” he said.
Bhaskara reasons that triangular routes, such as a potential Miami – Lima – Cuzco, would be a perfect example where legacy carriers wouldn’t dare to compete. Even American Airlines.
Bhaskara also figures that if Eastern stays away from primary markets, the US airline industry definitely has some potential “for a Thomas Cook or TUI style long haul, low-frequency vacation carrier.”
But as far as China is concerned, both Harteveldt and Bhaskara coincide that it is a tremendously risky idea.
“I’m not sure this is a smart enough idea for the sake of the airline’s investors and employees,” says Harteveldt. “We need competition in this industry, but we need it to be smart competition.”
A round trip ticket from New York to China can be booked today for less than US$400. “Jinan and really any China destination makes no sense to me,” remarks Bhaskara. “What price margin are you exploiting as a leisure/VFR type of carrier competing against these super-low fares offered by most Asian carriers that fly into New York?” he asks.
Looking back at Eastern 2.0’s failed course, it might seem as if the third iteration is looking to launch itself under the same business plan.
Back in 2009, the Eastern Air Lines Group, led by its founder and CEO, Ed Wegel, purchased the intellectual property of the original carrier and announced, in 2014, that it had filed a DOT application for the required certificates to operate.
The new Eastern Air Lines Group, Inc. was not affiliated with the former Eastern Air Lines, which operated from 1928 to 1991 as one of the largest U.S. domestic air carriers.
Ed Wegel, a popular leader among many of the airline’s current employees and those of the original Eastern, was responsible for bringing the Eastern name back to the skies. Wegel was the driving force behind the airline’s relaunch since the dark days of the 2008-09 recession when the planning began.
The charismatic CEO succeeded in finally bringing The Great Silver Fleet back to Miami in December 2014. He is particularly known and appreciated for his support of Eastern’s Veteran’s Honor Flights. He served five years of active military service as an Army officer in the U.S. and Europe.
Thanks to Wegel’s efforts, Part 121 certification was given to Eastern Air Lines on April 2015. The fanfare behind the rebirth of Miami’s most iconic airline reached far beyond that of a traditional airline launch.
“We are honored and humbled to have been selected to bring the Eastern Air Lines name and legacy back to the skies, and the receipt of our 121 certifications is the culmination of several years of planning and, over the last year, intense preparations by our team to meet all FAA requirements,” said Wegel at the ceremony.
Miami was the original Eastern Air Lines headquarters. The carrier was the city’s largest employer from the mid-1970s until its 1991 shutdown.
Eastern 2.0 was born with a strong order of 10 Boeing 737-800s, with purchase rights on 10 737 MAX 8s. Moreover, 20 Mitsubishi MRJ 90s were ordered with rights for an additional 20, aiming for a large operation based at the already busy Miami International Airport (MIA).
The new Eastern started flying in March 2015 ad-hoc charter flights—mostly between MIA and Cuba—and hoped to resume scheduled operations in the following 12 to 18 months.
Under Wegel’s leadership, Eastern achieved what many thought impossible: certification and five Boeing 737-800s in just eight months, their own simulator, building their own 25M hangar, and an extensive sports charter operation including flying the San Francisco Giants and Florida Panthers.
The airline started flying soon thereafter on special charter operations—a business plan that lasted until November 2017. Following a turbulent start, and an even more unstable lifespan, the carrier surrendered its Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) to the US Department of Transportation (DOT).
According to a note released by the DOT, the organization would “cancel the certificate authority issued to Eastern Air Lines Group Inc., authorizing it to engage in interstate and foreign charter air transportation of persons, property, and mail.”
Eastern Air Lines replied to this note saying that they did not object to the DOT canceling its economic authority.
What went wrong?
In October 2016, following a period in which Eastern became stagnant, Ed Wegel stepped down from his position as President and CEO of Eastern Air Lines, less than 18 months after the carrier’s first flight in May 2015.
This unexpected departure of the airline’s founder and major energy-driver brought Eastern Air Lines to the list of carriers experiencing senior management changes in 2016. Spirit, Delta, United, American, and Eastern witnessed significant changes in the C-Suite during that year.
The reasons behind Wegel’s departure from the privately held airline were not disclosed, though a number of people have said he was forced out. Questions about the airline’s business plan viability could have been a factor.
The attempt to revive one of the most important airlines in aviation history was not as successful as expected; the economical challenges led the airline to be acquired by the charter carrier, Swift Air, in June 2017.
Swift Air, based in Phoenix, has been operating for nearly two decades. The relatively low key carrier operates charter flights for major professional sports teams and tour operators with a fleet of 13 Boeing 737-300s and -400s.
Swift Air acquired the Boeing 737-800 aircraft that operated under Eastern 2.0, also retaining “Eastern Air Lines’ name, assets, and associated trademarks will be retained within the transaction.”
As published by Swift Air, the carrier assumed certain airline assets and customers from Eastern Air Lines, including “Eastern Air Lines’ name, assets, and associated trademarks.”
However, Swift Air highlighted that “the transaction is not a purchase of one certificate or merger of two certificates.”
The Birth Of Eastern 3.0
In 2018, following a successful bankruptcy proceeding, Dynamic International Airways (yet another ACMI operator), obtained permits and licensing rights to use Swift Air’s intellectual property over the Eastern Air Lines brand, allowing it to be re-branded as the Eastern Airlines that is about to take off on its third life.
“There’s nothing magical about the Eastern name. They disappeared more than 25 years ago,” stresses Harteveldt. “There’s nothing wrong with the Eastern name other than being geographically limited.”
Harteveld questions whether Eastern’s current plan is the best use of aircraft and investment money, noting that their planes are “far from being a slam dunk.”
In the meantime, Eastern 3.0 is training its current pilots to be certified for the incoming Boeing 777s. Mark Porter confirms that most of the current 767 pilots at Eastern have either been certified or in the process of training for the upcoming long-haul aircraft.
“I just hope they serve their customers well and enjoy a long successful life as the new revived Eastern Airlines,” concludes Harteveldt.