In a sight that hasn’t been seen in more than three decades, jets from both Eastern Airlines and National Airlines were on the tarmac at Pensacola International Airport on Thursday.
Flights from both airlines landed in Pensacola after being diverted due to Hurricane Matthew, which is currently bearing down on Florida’s Atlantic coast.
For more than four decades spanning the late 1930s through 1980, Eastern and National were the only two air carriers at Pensacola International Airport, then known as Hagler Field and later Pensacola Regional. Longtime players both in the U.S. commercial airline industry, both airlines went defunct years ago, but their names have been revived in recent years by upstart airlines hoping to capitalize on a sense of nostalgia.
“It’s good to see these aircraft here again, even if it is only temporary because of the storm,” said airport director Dan Flynn. “Having both Eastern and National here at the same time is like the 1970’s again!”
National Airlines was one of the first carriers to provide commercial air service to and from Pensacola, launching flights to Mobile, Ala. and Jacksonville, Fla. on November 1, 1938. The airline operated out of Pensacola for more than 40 years until merging with Pan American Airlines in 1980. Eastern came in 1947, and continued to serve Pensacola until the airline ran out of money and went belly up in 1991.
A group of investors purchased Eastern’s trademarks in 2009 and last year launched charter service between Miami and destinations in the Caribbean with a fleet of five Boeing 737s. One of the company’s jets is currently being leased to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign for use by his running mate, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana.
The revived National Airlines came about after National Air Cargo decided to enter the passenger air service business in 2015, launching scheduled service between its hub at Orlando Sanford International Airport and San Juan, Puerto Rico and two destinations in Canada. Unlike Eastern, the new National hasn’t adopted the logo or livery of its predecessor.
Both airlines feature prominently in Pensacola’s aviation history. It was Eastern who landed the first commercial jetliner in Pensacola on August 25, 1965, and National made headlines in May 1978 when Flight 193, traveling from Miami to Pensacola, missed its approach and ended up in Escambia Bay.
An investigation later found that pilots misjudged the plane’s altitude due to foggy conditions and misreading instruments. The Boeing 727 sunk in twelve feet of water, and three of the 52 passengers on board drowned while trying to exit the aircraft. The crash remains the deadliest aviation incident in the airport’s history.