Civil aviation in Cuba got a huge boost last year when the U.S. and Cuba agreed to re-establish regular passenger air service in more than 50 years – now general avaition is taking flight too.
When plans were announced for the first Visual Flight Rule (VFR) Air Rally in more than 60 years to Cuba – a long-forbidden destination to American aviators — the executive team behind Cruiser Aircraft Inc. (Cruiser), the exclusive Western Hemisphere importer of Czech Sport Aircraft’s SportCruiser airplane, knew they had to be a part of it.
Oscar Starinsky, CEO of Cruiser Aircraft.EU and Cruiser Aircraft Inc. President Thomas Schrade saw the rally as an opportunity to forge new relationships and take the first steps in revitalizing the once vibrant general aviation community in Cuba – as well as commemorating the first aviators to make the crossing from the Florida Keys to Cuba, rivals Domingo Rosillo del Toro and Augustin Parla, who accomplished the feat of the longest flights over water in May 1913.
“Flying in SportCruisers to Havana in this historic air rally is in line with the spirit of adventureand love of flying that our owners and Cruiser Club community enjoys and dreams about,” said Mr. Starinsky. “To be a part of this event means a lot to Tom and me, especially flying the SportCruiser to a place like Havana that once enjoyed a rich aviation history, and where we want to see that love for aviation grow again.”
Flying in SportCruiser N767SX Starinsky and Schrade were joined by Cruiser team members Bob Harris and Erin Porter in SportCruiser N707SX. The four set out from the company’s current base at North Perry Airport Thursday, May 18, to The Florida Keys Marathon International Airport (KMTH), where they gathered with other VFR pilot participants and International Air Rally organizers Catherine Tobenas and Camile Dumont for a detailed briefing. After filing a very specific flight plan and learning the intricacies of the specially designated military corridor to be flown by the seven aircraft in the rally, spaced five minutes apart, the group of aviators looked forward to the historic journey with great anticipation, and set off the morning of May 19, 104 years and two days after del Toro’s first successful crossing.
Like del Toro and Parla, the Cruiser team faced unfamiliar and possibly treacherous circumstances. Flying into Havana in private aircraft was something none of the pilots had experienced. Deviating at all from the flight plan on either the U.S. or Cuban side was strictly forbidden, with the pilots sternly instructed to follow US waypoints of KEYW (Key West) and MAXIM (24° 0′ 0N 82° 31′ 8W) and then being handed off from Miami control to Cuban controllers at FARAC (N23° 11.07′, W82° 36.02) before finally reaching MUHA (Jose Marti International Airport, Havana).
Flying over long stretches of water, in this case a 150-mile journey over the Florida Keys, initially, followed by 90 miles of open, shark-infested Florida Straits, was something many had not undertaken.
Once past FARAC, the pilots marveled at the coastline of Cuba, awaiting the direction given by the Cuba Civil Aviation Authority (IACC). All pilots and aircraft landed without incident and were greeted warmly and with fanfare by their hosts at MUHA.
Along with people-to-people exchanges and taking in the vibrant sights, smells and sounds of Havana and its environs, Cruiser’s primary mission was realized. Oscar Starinsky met with Ernesto Efren Adlum Segui, President of the Club de Aviacion de Cuba to discuss a potential training center to help revitalize general aviation in Cuba and make the long-forgotten dream of flying a reality again for its citizens.
After a three-day visit in Havana, the Cruiser team made its way back across the beautiful Straits of Florida to clear customs at KEYW before returning home to North Perry Monday, May 22. Both SportCruiser crews enjoyed a smooth and enjoyable journey.
“The reliability of the SportCruiser –with its Rotax engine; Dynon Avionics, navigation and autopilot, and BRS parachute — along with its perfect flight characteristics–gives pilots a real feeling of safety while flying over the ocean,” Starinsky said.
The annual VFR Air Rally to Cuba is just one of the special experiences Cruiser Aircraft Inc. intends to bring to the SportCruiser community when it opens its new facility in Sebastian, Florida this summer. The company’s Cruiser Club will allow SportCruiser owners to experience exciting destinations around the world in SportCruiser aircraft.