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First flights take off on Trump's renamed Northeast shuttle

By
ELLEN WULFHORST

NEW YORK -- The sky became the limit Thursday for real estate mogul Donald Trump with the maiden flights of his Trump Shuttle service - fashioned from the innovative Eastern shuttle -- taking off after a fog delay.

The inaugural voyages of the Trump Shuttle, with four newly painted airplanes bearing the developer's name, were scheduled for 7 a.m. in New York, Washington and Boston. All were delayed at least 20 minutes by thick fog in New York and Boston.

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Trump welcomed his first customers at LaGuardia Airport, greeting them with champagne, coffee and pastries in the former Eastern terminal, which was decorated with red and white balloons to match his repainted planes.

Later, he boarded his 8 a.m. shuttle from New York to Washington in the first lap of a whirlwind tour of the new routes. He also was scheduled for the 10 a.m. flight from Washington to New York, the noon flight from New York to Boston and the 2 p.m. flight from Boston to New York.

Radio advertisements for the airline began promptly at 7 a.m. on New York City radio stations.

'It's going to be the finest transportation operation anywhere in the country,' Trump said Wednesday at a news conference at the Plaza Hotel, another of his properties. 'We're making it very, very, very special.'

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Trump purchased the shuttle for $365 million from strike-battered Eastern Airlines, which is owned by the Texas Air Corp. The deal was approved May 24 by a federal judge overseeing Eastern's reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code.

Eastern's reorganization appeared headed for a snag, meanwhile, with the New York Times reporting Thursday that the Justice Department planned an antitrust suit opposing the proposed $85 million sale of Eastern's assets in Philadelphia to USAir Group Inc.

The department said USAir would gain too much control of the local market by acquiring Eastern's eight airport gates in Philadelphia and the airline's rights to air routes between Toronto and Philadelphia, the Times said.

Eastern, which filed for bankruptcy protection March 9, five days after the International Association of Machinists went on strike against it, has been seeking to sell assets to finance what it has described as its rebirth as a smaller airline.

Trump said Eastern's labor troubles were not expected to carry over to the Trump Shuttle.

Trump hired some 1,000 workers, 800 of them former Eastern employees, for the new service, said Bruce Nobles, the shuttle's president and chief operating officer.

He also signed agreements with the Air Line Pilots Association and the Transport Workers Union, which represents Eastern flight attendants, and was negotiating with the machinists' union, on strike since March 4.

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Trump predicted his airline would quickly recapture market share lost to Pan Am, the other operator of shuttle flights along the Washington-New York-Boston corridor.

Last month, under Eastern ownership, the market share fell to 28 percent, from about 50 percent last fall.

'People are really tired of being pushed around at Pan Am. Pan Am is not exactly one of the great stalwarts of the industry,' Trump said. 'We'll have the safest, most beautiful planes in the air and we'll have the best service.'

Trump said he expected the fare to remain at $99, the same as Pan Am, but, 'We'll match any price on the market.

Pan Am greeted Trump's debut with a new promotion and other customer-conscious campaigns, said its spokesman, Jeff Kriendler.

'Ultimately we recognize it's punctuality and service that keep customers coming back to Pan Am,' Kriendler said.

The entire Trump shuttle fleet of 21 Boeing 727s will be refurbished over the next six months at a cost of $2 million per plane, Trump said.

The planes' new exteriors are white, with a red 'Trump' on the sides and a stylized 'T' on the tails. Inside, carpeted bulkheads feature an embroidered scene of two other Trump posessions, Trump Tower and the Plaza Hotel, both in New York.

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Plans include the purchase of newer, larger planes over the next 18 months, Trump said.

Last fall Eastern agreed to sell the shuttle to Trump, who beat out America West Airlines Inc. of Phoenix, Ariz., which made a higher offer put failed to meet the financing deadline set by a federal bankruptcy court.

The Eastern Air-Shuttle revolutionized the industry when it began in 1961, carrying just 20 passengers on the first two flights. In the intervening years, it carried 76.3 million passengers.

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