Eastern Airlines (2D, Miami Int'l) has announced the signing of an agreement with Flexport to operate its future B777 Express Freighter aircraft out of Chicago O'Hare to Hong Kong Int'l and Ho Chi Minh City.

The transpacific flights are due to be run 2x weekly. Eastern Airlines did not disclose whether it would use a B777-200 or a B777-300 in its in-house conversion variant. It also did not disclose a specific timeline, saying only that operations would become once the conversion is approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

"There is an urgent demand to develop new solutions that alleviate the constricted global cargo market. Our partnership with Flexport, combining the large volume of our B777 Express Freighter with Flexport's leading-edge eCommerce technology and logistics platform, will fill that unmet need and add new capacity to the global cargo market," President and Chief Executive Steve Harfst said.

However, the plans have hit an unrelated snag after the airline was denied its ETOPS certificate, necessary to operate transpacific routes without a lengthy detour over Alaska and Siberia. PaxEx.aero news reviewed an internal memo in which Harfst admitted to the staff that the FAA had suspended the certification process. The regulator has yet to provide detailed reasons for this decision.

"While setbacks such as these are difficult to bear, we will not ignore the issues that have been raised. We will use this as an opportunity to assess our operation and make improvements that will ultimately lead to success... We remain committed to operating our airline to ETOPS standards, never compromising safety, and operating a company that follows best practices in all areas," Harfst wrote in the memo.

Eastern Airlines acquired thirty-five second-hand B777s in September 2021, including eleven B777-200s, fifteen B777-200(ER)s, seven B777-300s, and two B777-300(ER)s. The carrier is presently developing its own Supplemental Type Certificate for full Class-E conversion, which targets e-commerce cargo. Eastern Airlines plans to develop its own type of containers that will be suitable for the carriage of light goods without the need for the installation of a large cargo door. This will allow the operator to convert aircraft in as little as 14 days while still providing substantial capacity gains over makeshift freighters with passenger seats removed.

Until now, the carrier had focused on scheduled and charter passenger operations with its fleet of one B767-200, four B767-200(ER)s, and six B767-300(ER)s. Because the airline flies primarily within the United States and to Latin America, it does not require ETOPS certification for its core business.

Eastern Airlines did not respond to ch-aviation's question concerning the impact of the suspended ETOPS certification on its Flexport cooperation plans.