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Catching Up with the New Eastern Air Lines

A model at Farnborough showing the EAL livery on the MRJ90 - Photo: Jon Ostrower

A model at Farnborough showing the Eastern livery on the MRJ90 – Photo: Jon Ostrower

Whenever there is news that a startup airline is going to launch with a classic name-sake, I get a little excited. When press releases started coming in saying that Eastern Air Lines was going to start up again, I was happy, but of course skeptical.

Even back in May when they signed an initial order with Boeing and placed deposits for 10 737-800NG and 10 737 MAX 8 aircraft, I was unsure about the viability of the airline.

Then, last week at the Farnborough Airshow, they announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for 20 Mitsubishi MRJ90 aircraft, with purchase rights to an additional 20. Now, I am starting to pay a bit more attention.

A Boeing 737-800NG seen in Eastern Air Lines' livery - Image: EAL

A Boeing 737-800 Next Generation seen in Eastern Air Lines’ livery – Image: EAL

“We are extremely impressed with the operating cost benefits of the MRJ with the geared turbofan engine, which reduces seat mile costs almost to the level of current 130-seater aircraft,” Edward J. Wegel, Eastern Air Lines Group President and CEO said. “This provides an excellent scheduling and route network advantage to Eastern as we look to add a second fleet type within five years.”

BONUS: Catching Up with the Mitsubishi MRJ Regional Jet

The new EAL will be hubbed at Miami International Airport (MIA), just like its predecessor. Even though they have planes on order, the airline has quite a long ways to go. They filed their initial paperwork with the Department of Transportation (DOT) in January and intend to operate charter and wet-lease operations out of MIA beginning as early as December, 2014. They will need to get approval from the DOT and FAA before they can commence commercial operations. Those approvals have been the roadblocks for many other start-up airlines.

Eastern Air Lines Lockheed L1011 - Photo: Piergiuliano Chesi | Wiki Commons

Eastern Air Lines Lockheed L1011 – Photo: Piergiuliano Chesi | Wiki Commons

Although reviving classic airline names can give warm and fuzzy feelings to AvGeeks, it might not be the best idea. Brett Snyder (aka Cranky Flier) sees the revival a bit differently.

That is not a brand that people loved except for a handful of former employees with rose-colored glasses or kids who took their first trip to Disney World on them and never flew them again,” Snyder commented in a blog post. “Eastern’s reputation was one of a mess of an airline with contentious labor relations. It got so bad that a group called We Hate Eastern Airlines (WHEAL) was formed.”

He continues questioning if old namesakes can live up to even their old positive reputations. “It’s somebody who loves and remembers the brand and thinks that the golden days of travel are gone. So by bringing back that name, the golden days will return. They won’t.”

But it doesn’t mean that the new Eastern won’t succeed.

There are a number of interesting start-ups I have been watching (PeopleExpress, Baltia Air Lines, and Pan Am [which has already failed]) and I wonder which will survive. With the airlines merging and there being fewer low-cost choices, I think there is a market that these niche airlines might be able to make it, but there are competitors out there who will make it quite difficult. Who do you think will make it and who will fail?

   David Parker Brown – Editor-in-Chief & Founder 

David started AirlineReporter in the summer of 2008, but has had a passion for aviation since he was a kid. Born and raised in the Seattle area (where he is currently based) has surely had an influence and he couldn't imagine living anywhere else in the world.

 @ARdpb | Flickr |YouTube | david@airlinereporter.com

8 comments to Catching Up with the New Eastern Air Lines

  • JohnSD

    I have heard nothing but horror stories regarding the original Eastern Airlines, however I never once witnessed or experienced anything that matched the hearsay. I grew up in Boston, and EAL was synonymous with travel to DCA and LGA due to the Air Shuttle – and how I miss their Electra’s. I flew Eastern back and forth to the west coast, to and from NY and FL, and honestly cannot remember a bad flight or poor service. It would bring an ear to ear smile on my face if I saw the blue hockey stick taxiing around again.

  • Seems popular in this industry to poo-poo startups. As best I can tell this is totally isolated to the transportation industry. In nearly any other industry the startup underdogs get the support they deserve. Healthy skepticism is fine, but the blanket declaration of any new airline being dead before getting off the ground, it’s too pessimistic for my liking. But hey, Southwest was the new kid on the block once, now they’re the biggest domestic carrier and they STILL get hate. Lots of protectionist legacy lovers out there…

  • GJGálik

    I hope they load up the piggy bank – capital, capital and more capital. Burn rates for a startup daunting leap to survival. Some may love or hate the legacy brand, but it will be to the management to bring us – all over again – to the new EAL. That’s our choice – love or hate, but the worst be … indifference.

  • John G

    I think there is definitely some room for a low-cost model, especially as AirTran goes away. That said, this one doesn’t look like it will work.

    1) They have chosen the wrong hub. Miami is a very expensive place to operate. Plus if they only do domestic they won’t get any connecting traffic there.

    2) They picked an area that is already saturated on all levels of the spectrum. On the ULCC side, Spirit has a hub at FLL, and Allegiant flies to a ton of Florida cities already. For the low cost carriers, JetBlue already has a large number of flights to S Florida. And of course they cannot compete with American for the higher-end business customer. So who can they target?

    Using the name Eastern could work…and there is room out there for a hungry, well-run low cost airline. But in Miami? Doomed to failure.

  • Christopher

    As a former EA employee (who was laid off in the bankruptcy) I can tell you that EA had a devoted customer base, particularly in the Caribbean, where we were one of the early airline choices – until we were purchased by Texas Air (Continental) who were all about profit margin. That’s when it all went downhill and we were eviscerated for our route map. Before EA, I worked for PeopleExpress. Talk about a brand that doesn’t need to come back!!

  • Adam

    Me thinks there is more to this story than is apparent at this time

  • chris

    Growing up in northern New Jersey, Eastern was one of the largest operators at Newark Airport. My family flew them to Tamp on an A300 jumbo jet. Even though we were in coach, the food, service and airplane were all first class. Eastern was always my first choice airline to Boston, Washington, Florida and the Carolinas. Never a bad flight. It was horrid what Texas Air did to Continental (and People Express which was also a great airline). Hopefully they will come back with a new business model and compete with the legacy airlines. Good luck to Eastern!

  • j s carpenter

    I Flew them for many years out of Charlotte and carried there ExecutiveTraveler status. A class operation. I still fly 100k miles per year on business. With todays airlines all really offering unapologetic poor service I wonder if you could build a business around great first class service while charging the highest coach fare? For the business traveler this might work as they are not as concerned about fares and constantly complain ( justifiably) about poor service. Miami will definitely not work as a hub.

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