US authorizes up to 110 daily flights to CubaTuesday, February 16, 2016
WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) – The United States and Cuba will sign an agreement Tuesday authorizing up to 110 daily US commercial flights to Havana and nine other destinations in the communist island, restoring regular air travel for the first time in more than 50 years.
Once the accord is signed, US authorities will immediately invite American airlines to submit applications to operate the flights, with routes to be set up in a matter of months, officials said.
Additionally, the Cuban government will give "thorough consideration to future requests from the US government to increase this level of service," US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation Affairs Thomas Engle said.
"The two governments reaffirm their commitment to strengthen their already close cooperation in aviation safety and security matters."
Terms of the agreement allow for regular flights "between any city in the US and any city in Cuba," provided it is equipped with proper infrastructure for international flights, he added.
The United States announced plans to resume the flights in December, on the one-year anniversary of the start of reconciliation between Washington and Havana.
Under the new arrangement, airlines in the two countries can now strike deals in such areas as code-sharing and aircraft leasing, the Cuban embassy said at the time.
However, tourist travel is still barred under the trade embargo that the United States slapped on Cuba in 1960 after Fidel Castro came to power in a revolution.
The US Treasury Department has, however, set 12 categories of authorized travel.
- Multiple destinations -
"Initially, the US carriers will be allowed to fly 20 scheduled frequencies per day to Havana, the largest market, and remember that the current level is zero," Engle said.
"And also allowed to fly 10 scheduled frequencies per day to any other city in Cuba that has an airport open to international service."
Besides Havana, flights will be allowed to Camaguey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguin, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba.
Although the understanding formally opens the door for Cubana airlines to operate future flights into the United States, none are allowed to arrive at present.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs Brandon Belford said Cuban airlines will still have to obtain their own licenses from US authorities such as the Treasury Department and Office of Foreign Assets Control.
"So we do not anticipate Cuban-owned aircraft serving the US in the near future," he said.
- Call for applications -
Later on Tuesday, the Treasury Department will invite US airlines to submit applications for allocation of the new frequencies.
Belford said "carriers will have 15 days to submit their applications if they want to serve Havana and the other nine airports."
All final decisions will be made in approximately half a year.
"Our expectation is that we will be in position to make a decision and make it final sometime in the summer, in terms of which carriers and which US cities will have service into Cuba," Belford said.
Commercial flights between Cuba and the United States were cancelled 53 years ago but since the mid-1970s authorized charter flights have been allowed under certain conditions.
The United States and Cuba formally restored diplomatic relations in July and re-opened embassies in each other's capitals.