Here’s What’s Going On With Eastern Airlines

Eastern Airlines promised to be a popular revival of the former Eastern Air Lines, continuing the historical name with a fairly historical fleet of older Boeing 767s. But the new carrier would bring a modern twist to the iconic brand, with a new livery and identity and a new operating model.

Eastern Airlines began life as a charter operation, flying under the name Dynamic Airways. It restructured in 2018 following bankruptcy, and obtained the intellectual property rights to begin using the Eastern name. Its plan was to fly scheduled services to secondary locations in South America and China, out of its proposed hub at New York JFK.

While waiting for the paperwork to fall into place for its scheduled services, the airline operated some charter flights for Sunwing, in the wake of the Boeing 737 MAX groundings. In 2019, it also participated in the UK’s largest peacetime repatriation in history – Operation Matterhorn – the mission to get 600,000 stranded travelers home after the collapse of Thomas Cook.

Its first scheduled service took off from New York to Guayaquil in Ecuador on January 12th, 2020. Weeks later, the world changed dramatically. How did Eastern Airways survive COVID and what’s happening with it now?


A severely trimmed back network

Although Eastern had big plans in the beginning, it appears, on the surface, to have pulled right back in recent months.


Screenshot 2022-03-24 at 12.44.23

Eastern’s July 2020 network. Dates: Cirium

By July 2020, the airline had really spread its wings, with nine destinations connected within its network. Considering this was through some of the worst of COVID restrictions, it was impressively steady growth.

By December that year, it connected to 12 destinations in North, Central and South America. In the US market, it had added Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, with destinations in the Caribbean and Nicaragua joining the network for the first time.


Screenshot 2022-03-24 at 12.45.50

December 2020 at Eastern. Dates: Cirium

But then, things started to slow down. By July 2021, this network had fallen back to just a handful of destinations. The airline was flying out of JFK to GYE only. From Miami, it was connected to MGA, ASU and MVD.



Screenshot 2022-03-24 at 09.46.42

July 2021 for Eastern Airlines. Dates: Cirium

Right now, there is only one route loaded into its schedule for April. That’s between New York and Guayaquil. The situation is the same for the entire summer season, so unless the airline is planning to add in a bunch of flights at the last minute, we can see that the scheduled passenger operation is largely dead.


Screenshot 2022-03-24 at 09.46.58

The schedule right now, and until September. Dates: Cirium

Only one passenger plane in scheduled service

With the obvious pull back of its route network, Eastern’s passenger planes are finding themselves redundant. Here’s a rundown of some of its current fleet and their activity levels.

Eastern Airlines is the custodian of the very last passenger Boeing 767-200. Registered N603KW, it is a former Japan Airlines aircraft, that joined Eastern’s predecessor, Dynamic, in February 2011.

Through 2020, it was kept quite busy despite the pandemic. Although things went a bit quiet from April to September, likely a result of COVID border restrictions, the plane flew regularly from late September through to December 23rd. Most trips were between Miami or New York and Guayaquil, Panama City and Georgetown. The plane has not flown since December 23rd, 2020.


n602

Alongside that historical airplane, Eastern has a fleet of four 767-200ERs. One of these belonged to Swift Air, and was taken over by Eastern at the point of rebranding. Registered N602KW, it was originally delivered to Qantas more than 36 years ago. This plane was busy during all of 2020, but was flown out to Kansas City on January 23rd, 2021. It hasn’t moved since.


NK603KW final flight

N604KW was originally an Air Canada airplane, and came to Eastern via its predecessor Dynamic Airways. Eastern had been flying it almost daily throughout 2021, but its last recorded flight was on February 2nd this year, when it arrived in Fargo from El Paso.


Screenshot 2022-03-24 at 13.04.06

Next on the list is N605KW, a former EgyptAir 767 which spent time with South African Airways in the ’90s before being acquired by Eastern in April 2018. This plane was flying regularly up to March 13th, although not to any of Eastern’s scheduled destinations. This suggests this aircraft is focusing on charter operations for the time being, but is still active.

The final 767-200ER is recorded by ch-aviation.com as being a former Air Canada aircraft, most recently used by Jet Asia Airways until December 2019. Around that time, it was re-registered N606KW and was ferried from Fujairah via Dakar and Fort Lauderdale to Kansas City in December 2021. No other flights have taken place since.

Alongside the four 767-200ERs, the airline flies six 767-300ERs. Four were originally British Airways planes, while two were American Airlines purchases. All but one is listed as ‘active’ at present, with one in maintenance, but just how active are they?

N700KW has been with the company since its Dynamic days, arriving in 2014. It took a break over the holiday season, but has been active in recent weeks. Again, this is flying on what look to be chartered services. The situation is the same for N703KW and N705KW, the latter of which is presently in maintenance.

Another two of the six 763s are N36NE and N225NE. These are the New England Patriots special VIP jets. Eastern is operating these aircraft for the sports team, so they are not part of the passenger fleet.

That leaves only one operating the airline’s single remaining scheduled service. N706KW is a former British Airways and later Qantas 767-300ER, It is running the regular service between New York and Guayaquil, having arrived back at JFK just yesterday evening. It’s one of the airline’s beautiful retro-liveried 767s featuring the original Eastern Air Lines branding.

What does all this mean?

One lesson to learn from this brief investigation into what’s going on at Eastern Airlines is that schedule data does not tell the whole story. The airline had fully planned to dive into scheduled services, but it appears to be pivoting.


That doesn’t mean that it’s not busy, however. Although scheduled services are definitely on a downward decline, its entire fleet of 767-300ERs are busily buzzing about, mainly doing chartered services – something that the airline did with fair success for some time before its move into scheduled operations.


scheduled flights by eastern

The trend for schedule service reduction makes it look like the airline is failing, but that’s not the whole story. Dates: Cirium | Graph: Simple Flying

Although the 767-200ERs are largely parked and inactive, that doesn’t mean the airline is struggling. This looks to be a conscious decision to focus on the -300 as the platform for its passenger operations. Indeed, ch-aviation data shows two more 763s set to join the carrier – N503KW and N509KW. These are both ex-JAL aircraft and have 42 business class seats onboard; it will be interesting to see if Eastern forks out the money to reconfigure them or keeps the second class of seating in place (current aircraft are all-economy, with some extra legroom seats).

That pivot back to charter ops comes in the wake of a huge announcement from the airline in recent months. In September last year, Eastern announced the acquisition of 35 Boeing 777s for freighter use, and has already been amassing quite the fleet in the months since.

Here come the cargo planes

The first Eastern 777-200ER has been moving about at Kansas City for a couple of years. N821JT has been registered to Eastern since March 2019, but has not left the ground as far as flight tracking data shows.

The airline took a second Boeing 777-200ER in June 2020, bringing the plane out of storage at Victorville. Tail number N771KW was ferried on a two-and-a-half-hour trip to Kansas City, but has not flown since.

The 777s continue, with the third carrying tail number N822KW. This was ferried out of Victorville to Kansas City in September 2021. It previously flew for Singapore Airlines, but has been with the owner Alta Airlines Holdings since 2016.

The fourth 777-200ER has come from much further away than Victorville. N826KW was in storage at Alice Springs in Australia until October last year. It was ferried to Kansas City via Brisbane and Honolulu that month.

A month later, the fifth 777-200ER was moved in the same manner from Alice Springs to Kansas City. Tail number N827KW is a former Singapore Airlines airplane, phased out by the airline in September 2021.


Singapore_Airlines_B777-212ER_9V-SVB_(8614632048)

Next, in December 2021, 777-200ER number six was activated from Alice Springs to make the long trip to the USA. Tail number N829KW also traveled via Brisbane and Honolulu before touching down in Kansas City on December 10th.

Continuing to poke around in the Australian desert for its future fleet, Eastern Airlines pulled N830KW out of Alice Springs on January 5th this year. Again flying via BNE and HNL, it settled in Kansas City on January 7th.

The most recent addition, the eight 777-200ER, was registered to Eastern Airlines earlier this month. Now with tail number N783KW, it used to fly for Kenya Airways until it was parked in 2015.


5Y-KQS_(6919010138)

Alongside the eight 777-200ERs now parked in Kansas for Eastern, the airline also acquired one Boeing 777-300ER last month. The plane, with new registration N834KW, was flown out of Singapore and to Kansas City via Seoul on February 24th, touching down at its new home on the 25th. This too was a Singapore Airlines plane, officially leaving the fleet in January this year.

Not quite a P2F project

Many more 777s are set to join Eastern’s fleet before the goal of 35 is reached. All 35 are ex-passenger planes, and will be converted to carry cargo in Kansas by the airline. The cargo conversion is a point of interest in itself, as the airline won’t be going for a fully-fledged passenger to cargo (P2F) model.

Rather, Eastern plans to convert these aircraft into class E freighters, taking out seats and galleys to use the cabin for cargo operations but without the usual strengthening of floors. Full P2F conversions usually have a rebuilt wing box, to support the loads on the main deck, but Eastern’s will not.


eastern air cargo

The airline believes it can complete its class E freighter conversions in just 14 days. Photo: Eastern Airlines

Indeed, the airline will not even be cutting a cargo door into the sides of these planes, at least not initially. That means it will not be able to load standard containers and will instead have to focus on loading boxes and packages of smaller proportions. In an interview with Air Cargo News, Steve Harfst, Eastern’s chief executive, explained that the airline is more focused on a market where volume is more important than weight. He told the publication:

“We focus primarily on the e-commerce market, which is low-density cargo. That market is growing fast enough that we can segment that and concentrate on it. Express freight doesn’t need structural changes like replacing the floor. Why charge customers for a capability they don’t need?”

In total, the airline will be taking 15 777-200ER, seven 777-300 and two 777-300ER for conversion. It plans to develop its own type of containers that can be easily loaded without the large cargo door, and believes this P2F ‘lite’ conversion can be completed in as little as 14 days.

The airline has already secured a partnership with Flexport to operate freighter services out of Chicago to Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City. However, according to ch-aviation reporting, it is yet to secure the ETOPS necessary to operate these flights.

What do you think of the agile development of this airline and its big bet on a cargo-based future? Let us know in the comments.

Source: Air Cargo News, ch-avaiation.com


Chicago ORD airport

8 Runways: The History Of Chicago O’Hare International Airport

Read Next


About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.