New Pilots

U.S. Airlines Line Up for Rights to Serve Destinations in Cuba

2016 03 08

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) expects to decide this summer on which U.S. airlines and routes will serve Cuba after the two countries signed an historic agreement last month to restore scheduled air services. While U.S. carriers indicated that they could begin flights soon thereafter, approval for Cuban-owned carriers to serve the U.S. was not imminent.

Following the U.S.-Cuba accord, the DOT set a March 2 deadline for U.S. carriers to apply for flight allocations. American, United, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Alaska, Spirit, Frontier, Sun Country and Dynamic airlines, regional carrier Silver Airways, cargo carrier FedEx Express and charter carrier Eastern Air Lines submitted applications by that date, attesting to their appraisals of the pent-up demand for travel. Comments on the applications are due March 14.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Cuban Minister of Transportation Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez and other officials signed a memorandum of understanding on February 16 that provides for reestablishing scheduled flights between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years. The agreement allows each country to operate up to 20 daily round trip flights between the U.S. and Havana, and up to 10 round trip flights between theU.S. and each of Cuba’s nine other international airports—or 110 daily flights total. Charter flights, which some carriers already provide, were not limited.

While tourist travel from the U.S. to Cuba remains banned, the agreement will facilitate travel by people falling within one of 12 authorized categories—among them family visits and trips related to journalism, government business, educational and religious activities and public performances.

Leading the pack of U.S. carriers, American Airlines seeks to provide 12 of the allowed 20 daily flights to Havana, including 10 from its Miami hub and one each from Charlotte and Dallas-Fort Worth, in addition to weekly flights from Los Angeles and Chicago. It seeks two daily flights each from Miami to the Cuban destinations of Santa Clara, Holguin and Varadero, and one daily flight each to Camaguey and Cienfuegos.

“American is the undisputed leader in serving the people and businesses of Miami-Dade County, which is the heart and soul of the Cuban-American community and home to nearly 50 percent of the Cuban-American population in the United States,” stated chairman and CEO Doug Parker. “American’s proposed service will provide a strong foundation for the sustained future growth of commercial and cultural ties between the U.S.and Cuba.”

The DOT has stated that it “recognizes the eagerness of U.S. carriers” to resume scheduled services to Cuba, and that it “intends to reach a final decision as expeditiously as possible” on the flight allocations. Assuming they obtain operating permission from the Civil Aviation Institute of Cuba (IACC)—that country’s civil aviation authority—carriers have indicated they can begin service as soon as this summer.

Before a Cuban-owned airline could fly scheduled routes to the U.S., it would need to obtain an “economic license” from the DOT, according to the department, as well as licenses from the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security. The U.S.Federal Aviation Administration would have to evaluate the IACC to ensure that it complies with international standards in its oversight of Cuban air carriers.

The DOT said it does not expect Cuban-owned aircraft to begin serving U.S. destinations in the near future.