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Eastern Air Lines: Timeline for a Legend Relaunched

Today was a very exciting day for Miami aviation, with the official relaunch of iconic Eastern Air Lines at its base in Miami International Airport.

The airline’s new aircraft was appropriately named ‘Spirit of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker’, in honor of the aviation legend who was the original Eastern’s spirit and soul, from its beginnings in the 1930s until he retired in 1963.

The new Eastern Air Lines is the labor of love, leap of faith, and blue sky dream of a group of airline managers who acquired the intellectual property of the original carrier then sought the necessary support and funding for the ambitious project.

The timeline so far:

2011 The group planning the relaunch is formalized as Eastern Air Lines Group, Inc.

January 2014 The group files application with USDOT for Part 121 certification

“We are honored to have the opportunity to launch an airline bearing the iconic Eastern Air Lines name,” said Eastern’s President and CEO Edward Wegel. “We have recruited a world class board of directors and a highly experienced management team to guide and lead this effort.”

April 2014 Eastern Air Lines makes a move to promote its new brand in style, by sponsoring Miami Fashion Week

“We are extremely pleased to be one of the sponsors of this years’ Miami Fashion Week, an event which has become an integral part of Miami’s fashion, as well as the arts and sports scene. Miami Fashion Week is internationally recognized as one of the trendiest events worldwide, and we are honored to be part of it,” said Ed Wegel, President and CEO of Eastern Air Lines Group. “Just as Miami Fashion Week has become synonymous with Miami, Eastern Airlines will also be strongly associated with the Magic City; where it was once the largest airline and had its headquarters for over 30 years.”

May 2014 Eastern places order for 10 Boeing 738-800 Aircraft

“Eastern is extremely honored and privileged to be in business with Boeing once again. Eastern’s strong relation­ship with Boeing dates back to the 1930’s, and later Eastern was the first airline to order and operate both the Boeing 727 and 757 aircraft. We will now proudly have the Boeing 737 Next Generation, and eventually the MAX aircraft, as our fleet standard,” said Edward J. Wegel, Eastern’s President and CEO.

June 2014 Eastern starts hiring pilots

“This is an exciting time in our industry and Eastern will be providing good flight crew jobs with great promotion potential as we grow with 737 Next Generation aircraft, and eventually the 737 MAX,” said Eastern’s Vice President of Flight Operations, Captain John Furneaux.

August 2014 Eastern completes its current equity round funding with a major investment from Vincent Viola, Chairman of Virtu Financial, founder and significant shareholder in Independent Bank Texas, and owner of the NHL Florida Panthers.

“We are extremely honored to have Mr. Viola as our major shareholder and having the benefit of his broad business experience as a board member. He is a patriot as well as a highly accomplished business and civic leader, with a strong commitment to South Florida where Eastern is headquartered”, said Ed Wegel, Eastern’s President and CEO.

Mr. Viola commented, “I am delighted to be part of the re-launch of this great American company, and look forward to working closely with Eastern’s board and management in guiding the growth of this charter airline.”

15 December 2014 ‘Spirit of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker’ (N276EA) leaves Shannon, with its shiny new, totally retro, paint job. One might say the rainbow in the Irish sky which framed the plane is auspicious.

19 December 2014 The launch ceremony and fanfare ensue at MIA, including a flyover and water cannon salute. Here are the highlights from Twitter:

I don’t have confirmation from the airline but it does look as though the squiggly flight path took the aircraft over the Rickenbacker Causeway. Whether intended or accidental, it was certainly in the area, which is nice.

The airline also debuted some snazzy uniforms for its flight attendants, which include a very eye-catching blue logo hard-shell roller. Ladies only.

What to make of this blue sky project?

On the one hand, the six relaunches of Pan Am (also starting with charter service), were unsuccessful. But those were based out of New York. Miami is a different market.

It’s not easy to launch an airline at any point. In a consolidated market, dominated by airline giants, things are very tough. A Sir Richard Branson said: “If you want to be a millionaire start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.” But he did it, regardless.

There a number of factors working in this new Eastern’s favour: experienced management, a huge fan base, an operating base at Miami International Airport, a strong Miami aviation community, lower fuel costs, and its charter status–which also gives the airline a nice positioning to capitalise on any further relaxing of rules for flights to Havana.

Some key people are excited about the new Eastern’s prospects.

Let’s hope they’re right. As a long-time Miami resident and member of the aviation community, I confess that I want it to succeed too. It would be beautiful to see that blue sky dream turn into blue skies ahead and to have a vintage icon successfully rise again.

Featured Image: Rendering of Eastern Air Lines’ Boeing 737 MAX 8 in flight/Eastern Air Lines

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