Eastern takes flight from Miami again
BY HANNAH SAMPSON
The well-known carrier with the hockey stick logo — a resurrection of
the airline that called Miami home for decades — lifted off for its
first revenue flight on Thursday afternoon. The destination for Eastern
flight 3145 was Havana, in partnership with HavanaAir Charters.
Eastern Air Lines announced last week that it had signed an agreement
with Miami-based HavanaAir to provide the lift for the operator’s
charter flights to Havana, Santa Clara and Camaguey.
The airline’s Boeing 737-800 will fly twice daily to Havana from Miami
and weekly to the other destinations, with plans to add service to Cuba
from other gateway cities in the U.S. over the next couple months.
HavanaAir used other carriers in the past but approached Eastern because
of its longtime name recognition and newer generation of aircraft, said
Eastern president and CEO Ed Wegel. He said he overheard someone notice
the iconic signage and say: “Oh, Eastern? Are they back?”
Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research in San
Francisco, called the contract a “great win” for Eastern that will give
the startup operational experience, revenue — and attention.
“It’ll be good for Eastern in terms of giving it a lot of frequencies
and it’s also a high-profile market,” Harteveldt said. “It’s great
visibility for the airline.”
For Wegel, Thursday’s flight (refreshments: soft drinks and plantain
chips) represented a milestone in the works since 2007.
In the years since, he and his partners have worked to hammer out
agreements with the estate of the old Eastern, which ceased operations
24 years ago; raise millions in capital; earn certification from the
Federal Aviation Administration; get approval from the Department of
Transportation; acquire plans; train the first group of pilots and
flight attendants; earn government approval to be a charter carrier and
get the OK from the Transportation Security Administration to go to Cuba.
As he sat in the terminal surrounded by passengers preparing to board,
Wegel said Thursday afternoon that he felt “a sense of pride in our
people that they put all this together.”
The earlier Eastern — once the largest private employer in Miami-Dade
County — filed for bankruptcy protection in 1989 and stopped flying in
1991. The new airline is not affiliated with the original carrier but
acquired its intellectual property; shareholders from the old airline
also received rights to buy a stake in the new company.
Eventually, Eastern plans to fly as a scheduled carrier, but the process
could take a year once started. The airline is still in the planning
phase now, Wegel said.
In the near term, a second 145-seat aircraft is scheduled for delivery
next month and will go into service July 1 flying for a “major scheduled
airline” still to be announced into the Caribbean from New York and
Miami. A third plane comes online in August.
Chris Sloan, editor in chief and publisher of AirwaysNews.com, said
Eastern stands out as a charter carrier because its aircraft is newer
and more fuel efficient than many of its competitors. And it stands out
as a new iteration of an old brand because if its business plan, he said.
Unlike other old names such as Pan Am and Braniff that have been brought
back to life only to fail again, Sloan said the new Eastern appears to
be ramping up in a smart way.
“They’re going to get their operations straight, generate revenue on
charters before venturing to scheduled service,” Sloan said. “That, to
me, is encouraging that they’re not leaping with both feet in. Virtually
everyone else who has resurrected a name has failed at it. They’ve all
done it completely differently than Eastern is.”
The company has set up shop at Miami International Airport’s Building
5A, the former Eastern operations center. Community appreciation for the
airline was evident in December, when the first aircraft arrived and
crowds of politicians and former employees gathered to welcome it with
In contrast to its December event, which featured Frank Sinatra songs,
ice sculptures and historic photos, Thursday’s flight took off without
“Enough celebrating,” Wegel said. “Now we need to re-earn our wings.”
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