The US and Cuba yesterday signed an agreement authorising 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.
US authorities will now 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 co-operation 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 US 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 US slapped on Cuba in 1960 after Fidel Castro came to power in a revolution.
The US treasury department has, however, set 12 categories of authorised travel.
“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 it is 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 US, 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 licences 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.
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.