U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will sign a civil aviation agreement in Havana on Tuesday, opening the door for U.S. airlines to begin offering scheduled service to and from Cuba for the first time since the early 1960s.
The agreement, which was reached in December, allows a maximum of 20 daily flights to Havana and 10 daily flights to each of nine other Cuban cities with international airports for a total of as many as 110 flights each day. However, tourists still will be barred from traveling to Cuba, with only “authorized” travelers allowed.
Former Charlotte mayor Foxx and a top State Department official will be center stage in the reawakening of U.S. commercial aviation with the communist nation after a trade embargo iced relations for more than half a century.
Beginning Tuesday, commercial passenger and cargo airlines will have a 15-day window to submit applications to serve Havana and nine other Cuban cities with international airports. About 10 to 15 daily charter flights, which have been the only way to fly to Cuba for decades, are expected to continue.
Decisions on which airlines and which U.S. cities will have commercial service to Cuba are expected to be made by this summer and the first scheduled flights could begin by next fall, Brandon Belford, deputy assistant for aviation and international affairs at the Department of Transportation, told reporters Friday.
While Americans will be prohibited from traveling to Cuba for tourism, travel in 12 authorized categories, such as educational trips and people-to-people tours, is permitted.
American Airlines, which already leases more of its aircraft for Cuban charters than any other U.S. airline, is eager to begin service to Cuba.
“We look forward to establishing scheduled service to Cuba in 2016 from Miami and our other hubs,” said Martha Pantin, an American spokeswoman. “With some 25 years of experience and operations already established in Miami, that hub makes sense. We are exploring other options based on demand in each market.”
Delta Airlines, JetBlue, United Airlines and Southwest have indicated they want to offer service to Cuba.
Although the civil aviation agreement is a reciprocal one, meaning Cuba could also provide scheduled service to the United States using its planes, Engle said, “We do not anticipate Cuban-owned aircraft serving the United States in the near future.”
Observer Washington correspondent Greg Gordon contributed.