MIAMI — Nearly 24 years after the original Eastern shut down on January 18, 1991, the new Eastern Air Lines came back—but not for too long.
Following a turbulent start, and an even more unstable lifespan, Eastern Air Lines has 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.
Waking up to an unfeasible dream
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 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 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 in 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 certification 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 moment.
Miami was the original Eastern’s headquarters, and the carrier was the city’s largest employer from the mid-1970s until its 1991 shutdown.
The new Eastern 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.
RELATED: The Wings of Man Unfolds its Wings: Eastern Airlines Returned Thursday with Flights To Cuba
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.
But a real airline needs to have real routes, and Eastern did not have that.
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 brings 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.
— Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) October 17, 2016
“Eastern is facing its next challenges: defending its US-Cuba charter niche, suddenly awash with scheduled capacity (it applied for but was not awarded for scheduled service in the first rounds of awards), finalizing its scheduled domestic/flag service application (FAA operational/safety and DOT financial fitness), and dealing with delays to its smaller jet (MRJ) fleet plan,” remarked noted airline analyst Robert W. Mann at the time of Wegel’s departure.
The Eastern Air Lines Group applied for scheduled flights between MIA and Havana but the US DOT denied it, arguing the airline had not established a record of service at the time. From this moment on, the carrier started to face financial difficulties.
Once a steady flow of income for Eastern, the charter market to Cuba has suffered from the introduction of scheduled commercial air service to the Caribbean nation.
Eastern Airlines Now Flying more to Cuba than any other US Airline. pic.twitter.com/CRSFXdKdRi
— Mark (@porterspa) July 7, 2015
Ironically, the Trump Administration’s reversal of key aspects of Obama’s Cuban travel policies could further reduce already tepid demand for travel between the nations. This could lead to further reductions in scheduled commercial service, and provide an opening for the charters.
As a result, Eastern began returning several aircraft to its lessors.
Swift Air Takes Over
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 20 years. 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.
The End of Eastern, This Time For Real
After all the efforts, Eastern Air Lines conducted its last flight in September 2017, waking up to a turbulent dream and hope of bringing the iconic Eastern brand to life.
It remains unclear the status of the leased Boeing 737s and the orders for 10 737 MAX 8s. Delivery was supposed to start in 2020, as well as the 20 Mitsubishi MRJs that were scheduled for delivery in 2019.
In the meantime, Ed Wegel just launched its newest re-birth project, this time with defunct World Airways, which ceased operations in March 2014, almost 66 years after the day it began on March 29, 1948.
US-based investment firm, 777 Partners, just announced it acquired the intellectual property of World Airways, Inc.
“World has a rich and storied history dating back to 1947. It was once the world’s largest independent charter airline, and served the U.S. military and other clients with great distinction for many years,” said Ed Wegel, now Founder and CEO of the new World Airways.
And much like the failed Eastern re-birth, 777 Partners will base the new World Airways at MIA and LAX as initial operating hubs.