U.S., Cuba sign historic deal restoring scheduled air access

CubaFor the first time in more than 50 years, the skies over Cuba are opening up to scheduled service from the United States. The two countries signed a deal today, officially allowing flights between their borders.

Federal officials said they will allow more than 100 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and 10 Cuban international airports, including Havana. Charter flights, which have already been operating for several years, will be allowed to continue.

This agreement comes a little less than a year after President Obama re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba. The accord became official after it was signed by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, as well as officials from the U.S. State Department, the Cuban Ministry of Transportation and the Cuban Civil Aviation Institute.

American and United Airlines both welcomed the news. American’s Chairman and CEO Doug Parker said, “American Airlines commends the U.S. government for its commitment to re-establishing cultural and economic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, and for laying the groundwork to restore scheduled air service between the two countries in more than 50 years.”

American plans to submit a proposal to the Department of Transportation in the coming weeks as does United Airlines. United plans to apply to offer service from some of its global hubs to Havana.

The Transportation Department is now taking applications from carriers to apply for direct access to Cuba while it works on deciding which U.S. airports will offer the flights. No specific mention was made with regard to trade and cargo, but markets for cargo carried in the belly holds of passenger aircraft are likely to develop as a result of this agreement.

In addition to United and American, carrier JetBlue has said it wants in on the action. American said it plans to operate flights from its Miami hub. American operated about 1,200 charter flights to Cuba last year. JetBlue said in a statement that it “eagerly awaits the opportunity” to add flights to and from Cuba, while adding that it would continue the charter flights it began offering in 2011.

There are still conditions for passenger travel. They need to fit one of 12 categories laid out by the Treasury Department, which include but are not limited to family visits, official visits of the U.S. government, journalistic activity, religious activities, workshops, performances and clinics.

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