Eastern's 777 at Kansas photo © Wirestock

Something doesn’t seem right at cargo-ambitious Eastern Airlines: Steve Harfst has quietly resigned as president and CEO, a position he held for four years after leaving Allegiant, where he was COO.

To replace him Eastern has appointed Brian Randow, a private jet and charter specialist, and has a new EVP commercial, Steve Kasteler, who worked with Mr Randow at charter airline iAero, formerly Swift.

Judging by Mr Harsft’s media interviews this year, his departure would seem to have come as a surprise. And it came just two months or so after Eastern received the first of its 35-strong fleet of used 777s, an order it announced mid-pandemic. in 2021. The first aircraft flew a short route this week, between Kansas City and Savannah, possibly for testing purposes.

Eastern’s plan was to “convert” the majority of the 777 orders into freighters, using a new conversion-light approach. Flexport was its launch customer for the type. But the plans have been beset by delays on ETOPs approval and type certification.

The original plan was to operate the freighters in the first quarter of 2022; then it was the second half; then Q1 23 became the date for certification. Eastern acknowledged there had been supply chain issues, as well as some reticence at the FAA, where management is scarred by the Boeing Max nightmare.

It would appear there is some confusion at the carrier, now, over its plans for cargo and the progress of its freighter fleet. Its passenger business is certainly stronger than the fledgling freight arm: passenger revenues were some $64.7m in 2021, while cargo was $6.65m, according to CH Aviation. But it has not been making a profit. Despite revenue growth of 10%, its net loss in 2021 was $30m, which followed a loss of $6.5m a year earlier.

At the end of last year, the carrier applied for a passenger and belly service to Shanghai from New York, with a leased-in A330 until the 777s are approved.

“Eastern will transition to using its own B777 aircraft upon finalising FAA approvals necessary to operate that aircraft for this service,” it told the US DoT. The service does not seem to have started yet.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens to this out-of-the-ordinary carrier now it is under new management, and whether its cargo business will ever really take off.

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