The man who helped resurrect Eastern Airlines has left his job

Former Eastern Air Lines president and CEO Ed Wegel at the airline’s headquarters near Miami International Airport in January 2015.
Former Eastern Air Lines president and CEO Ed Wegel at the airline’s headquarters near Miami International Airport in January 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Ed Wegel, who helped resurrect Eastern Air Lines for its inaugural flights to Cuba last year, has left his position, according to the airline.

As president and CEO of Eastern, Wegel helped shepherd in a new era after the carrier ceased operations 25 years ago. Last summer, the airline began leasing its planes to Miami-based HavanaAir for flights from Miami International Airport to Havana, Holguin, Camaguey, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba.

According to Airways Magazine, a number of sources said Wegel was forced out of his position, which has now been filled by interim CEO James Tolzien, the airline’s chief financial officer.

“We were just as surprised as everyone else on Ed’s release,” said Mark Elias, president and chief operating officer of Havana Air, in an email. “He was indeed instrumental in negotiating our start up with Eastern as our contracted charter provider and assisted us regularly in our requesting flights.”

Eastern Air Lines said it will conduct a global search for a permanent CEO.

“We have complete confidence in Jim’s leadership and we are certain we will attract a world-class industry veteran to take Eastern to the next level,” said Chairman Ray Odierno. “The board remains grateful to Mr. Ed Wegel for his vision in resurrecting the iconic Eastern brand. While we recognize his contributions in navigating the startup phase of the airline, we are convinced change is required for Eastern’s continued long-term success. We wish Ed the best in his future endeavors.”

Prior to his role at Eastern, Wegel held leadership positions at half a dozen airlines. Interim CEO Tolzien has 40 years of business experience, including as president of TraveLeaders, a corporate travel management company. He has been with Eastern since its inception in 2011.

Wegel’s involvement with Eastern began in 2007, when he and his partners began to work to reestablish the airline, raise millions of dollars in capital, train staff and reach agreements to fly to Cuba.

At the airline’s inaugural Cuba flight in May 2015, Wegel told the Herald he felt “a sense of pride in our people that they put all this together.”

The line also flies to several destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America and operates sports charters for the Florida Panthers and San Francisco Giants. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation denied Eastern’s bid for commercial flights from Miami to Holguin and Camaguey.