US and Cuba to begin scheduled flights near year end

17 February 2016

Volume 39, Number 07

The US and Cuban governments signed on February 16 in Havana an agreement that will lead to the resumption of scheduled commercial flights for the first time in more than 50 years.

The bilateral air services agreement will as previously reported enable US carriers to provide up to 20 flights per day to Havana and up to 10 per day to each of Cuba’s nine other international airports.

At present, there are between 10 to 15 charter flights a day from various US points mainly to Havana, some of which are likely to be displaced as scheduled carriers begin to operate there and in time to other Cuban cities.

The agreement was signed in Havana by Anthony Foxx, the US Secretary of State for Transport and his Cuban counterparts, Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez, the Minister of Transport, and Alfredo Cordero Puig, the President of the Institute of Civil Aeronautics of Cuba, and is expected to lead to the resumption of services in the autumn of 2016.

US carriers now have 15 days to apply to the US Department of Transportation for permits to operate flights, with a decision being after that as to which airlines will be permitted to operate services from which US cities to which Cuban destinations. The matter also has to be considered by the relevant Cuban regulatory authorities.

If the schedule is kept to and all other technical, commercial and security requirements are met, services will probably begin in October or November 2016.

It is expected that the slots for the Havana routes will be actively contested, with other destinations available having a slower take up. In addition to Havana, Cuba has airports equipped to receive international traffic at Camaguey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguin, Manzanillo, Varadero, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba. American, JetBlue, United Airlines, Southwest and Delta have indicated they want to offer services to Cuba.

Reports suggest that if the US and Cuban authorities find that on some routes only one carrier has applied, some services could begin sooner. It is, however, more likely that both Washington and Havana would wish to gain the maximum publicity from the agreement if the first services operate into Havana out of Miami and New York.

The agreement paves the way for freer individual US travel to Cuba under existing US restrictions which limit travel to 12 categories for specified purposes other than tourism. However, with scheduled services and the only requirement for individuals being self-declaration to the airline as to the purpose of a visit, it is expected that the new services will result in a form of tourism in all but name. It also paves the way for eventual full tourist travel if and when the existing restrictions are removed by Congress.

However, US regulations issued on September 21, 2015 make clear that only US citizens, airline crew, Cuban nationals holding a visa, Cuban nationals in certain migrant categories and nationals of third countries travelling on official government or inter-governmental business, will be able to use the scheduled US flights.

American Airlines, which already leases more of its aircraft for Cuban charters than any other US airline, has made clear it is looking forward to establishing scheduled service to Cuba in 2016 from Miami and other US hubs. Speaking to the US media, Martha Pantin, an American spokeswoman said, “With some 25 years of experience and operations already established in Miami, that hub makes sense. We are exploring other options based on demand in each market.”


This is an extract from the Caribbean Council’s leading weekly editorially independent publication, Caribbean Insight, which provides in depth information on current economic, political and commercial developments in the Caribbean and news on events in Europe and the US that affect the region. Business people, academics, and those with a general interest in the Caribbean find it an invaluable tool for developing and maintaining knowledge and providing an insight into political, economic and commercial events in the region.

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