A group of investors is quietly making moves to return one of the most storied names in US airline history back to American skies.
If you’re a “millennial,” you almost certainly don’t remember Eastern Air Lines, one of several US airlines that died off not long after you were born.
But if you’re that 20something’s parent and grew up on the East Coast of the United States, there’s a good chance you do.
Now, it looks as if there are some other folks who remember Eastern, and they’re positioning themselves to bring it back.
Travel Weekly is reporting that “A group of investors and entrepreneurs has acquired the rights to the trademarks of the old Eastern Air Lines and hopes to start a new airline using the old name.”
They’re got the rights to the name, the trademarks and symbols, right down to Eastern’s old “hockey stick” logo that adorned everything from its stationery to its wide-bodied jets.
No dates have been announced yet, but the plan is to start with running charter flights with a single leased Airbus A320, and easing into regularly scheduled passenger service over time.
*U P D A T E*
The new Eastern Air Lines hasn’t made its first flight, but it’s already growing.
Bloomberg is reporting that Eastern 2.0 is already shopping around for more airplanes — up to ten used airliners from Boeing — and eyeing new one from Airbus. These boys are serious.
Even more intriguing is word that Eastern’s new owners have been chatting up the Chinese aircraft maker Comac about possibly acquiring their new narrow-body C919 airliners for use in the United States.
Comac, aka the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, is working in tandem with Canada’s Bombardier Inc., on long-term plans to build airliners — and break the grip of Boeing and Airbus on the world’s airlines.
Media reports describe the main mover in this deal as Edward Wegel, an airline industry veteran who worked with Eastern back in the 1980s.
A lot of this country’s aviation history is tied to Eastern. Over the decades, it was owned by a carmaker, bought by a flying ace and run by an astronaut.
Along with American, United and Delta, it was one of the “Big Four,” going toe-to-toe with them in New York, Chicago and Atlanta.
Based in Miami, it pretty much owned Florida, so much so that when Disneyworld opened in Orlando in 1971, it became Disney’s official airline.
Eastern Air Lines first took off in 1934, but it didn’t really seem to take off in the public’s imagination until its owner, General Motors, sold it to World War 1 fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker, for $3.5 million.
By the time Rickenbacker left with the dawn of the Jet Age, Eastern seemed invincible east of the Mississippi. It could take you north to Canada, west to California or south to the Caribbean getaway of your choice. It was the unofficial airline of the American snowbird.
It was the first to fly the iconic three-engined Boeing 727, the Boeing 757 and was the first US airline to fly the Airbus A300, the world’s first twin-engined jumbo jet.
So what went wrong?
It was slow to embrace change. It staked the company’s fortunes on a jumbo jet that proved to be a dog, the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar.
For a little while, things got better when former astronaut Frank Borman took over as president after leaving NASA, but it couldn’t last.
Airline deregulation threw Eastern against low-cost, low-fare competitors that it couldn’t match. Trying to save cash by forcing wage cuts started an ugly war between labor and management — at exactly the moment when each side needed to have the other’s back.
Bleeding money from multiple wounds, Eastern folded in 1991.
Now, if Wegel and his cohorts get their way, Eastern may soon be taxiing for a fresh takeoff into the 21st century. Can they pull it off? We’ll see.
When Eastern Air Lines closed up shop in 1991, it joined a long list of US airlines that, in the words of a popular New Orleans Christmas song, “Ain’t Dere No More:”
- Pan Am
- Air California
- Hughes Airwest
- America West
And believe me, this is only a small fraction of the actual total.