Now that eight major U.S.-based carriers have submitted applications to begin scheduled service to the previously forbidden Cuba, forwarders are calling for the Department of Transportation to give precedence to passenger routes that carry bellyhold cargo during the approval process.
According to the U.S. Airforwarders Association (AfA), only five of the carriers that have applied – Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines – currently have air cargo programs. “The opening of Cuba to travel is about more than just moving people, it will also be about trade,” said Brandon Fried, executive director of AfA, and a columnist for Air Cargo World. “The eligibility of any airline that ultimately cannot fill planes with both passengers and cargo should be looked upon less favorably.”
The AfA, which represents 360 forwarders in North America, cautioned that “significant airport infrastructure and economic limitations exist within Cuba that present real challenges to trade.” However, the group added that once the limitations are solved, its members looked forward to “working with carriers that, as experienced cargo handlers, intend to offer airfreight service to enhance trade promotion with Cuba.”
Delta said that, pending DOT approval, it plans to offer 757-200 service to Havana’s José Martí International Airport from Atlanta and New York’s JFK, as well as 737-800 routes from Miami and Orlando. Rival American applied for 10 daily frequencies to Havana from Miami and daily service to five other Cuban locations, plus additional Havana service from Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Chicago. United said it plans to launch 11 flights per week, using 737-800 aircraft, to Havana from Newark, New York, Houston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
The applications were submitted soon after the U.S. government signed an agreement with Cuba in February to resume scheduled commercial air service between the two political adversaries as relations have gradually thawed in recent years.
The U.S. DOT said it will analyze the carriers’ requests and provide final comments by March 21. Once approved by DOT, service between the U.S. and Cuba may resume as early as this year, allowing designated U.S. carriers to operate up to 20 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and Havana and as many as 10 daily round-trips to nine other Cuban cities.