The United States and Cuba have reached a bilateral agreement to establish scheduled air services between the two countries, the US State Department announced.
Scheduled commercial flight service has been suspended for decades. Charter flights have connected the two countries in the interim, with carriers from JetBlue to American Airlines operating the flights.
“This arrangement will continue to allow charter operations and establish scheduled air service, which will facilitate an increase in authorized travel, enhance traveler choices, and promote people-to-people links between the two countries,” the State Department said.
The change will allow U.S. airlines to sell tickets to Cuba directly to travelers.
Under existing travel restrictions, only certain U.S. citizens will be able to take up the offer because a ban on general tourism to Cuba remains in place.
So what does that mean for aviation companies?
American Airlines said it expects to submit a US-Cuba service proposal to the US Department of Transportation “and hopes for timely approval of its proposal to enable American to introduce scheduled service as soon as possible in 2016.”
“Today’s announcement is great news for our customers as it brings us one step closer to connecting the U.S. and Cuba with scheduled air service,” said American’s chairman and CEO Doug Parker. “As the leading carrier to the Caribbean and the leading U.S. airline to Cuba, we look forward to establishing scheduled service to Cuba in 2016, from Miami and other American hubs. We appreciate the Administration’s efforts and the hard work of the U.S. negotiators to reach this arrangement.”
Thursday was the one-year anniversary of the announcement by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro that they were ending a half-century of US-Cuban hostility.
“While U.S. law continues to prohibit travel to Cuba for tourist activities, a stronger civil aviation relationship will facilitate growth in authorized travel between our two countries—a critical component of the President’s policy toward Cuba,” the State Department said.