The airlines finally received the green light to establish regular flights between U.S. and Cuban cities. The agreement, one of the most demanded by U.S. business circles, had been announced late last December.
Cuban Transport Minister Adel Yzquierdo and his U.S. counterpart Anthony Foxx put an end to 53 years of lack of commercial air connections when they signed the document on February 16 at a protocol room of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. The ceremony, which put an end to an intense process of negotiations, was also attendedby Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business AffairsCharles Rivkin and the president of the Institute of Civil Aeronautics of Cuba (IACC), Alfredo Cordero Puig.
The secretary of transportation described the agreement as historic and said that it means more than the start of our civil aviation relations, it represents a landmark of critical significance in the U.S. efforts to have a dialogue with Cuba and normalise relations, as President Barack Obama set out to do only 14 months ago.
Foxx added that the start of commercial flights testifies that the commitment to strengthen links is still standing.
Yzquierdo coincided that the memorandum will contribute to the advance in the links between both countries, links that since the second half of last year entered a stage of increasingly more intense exchange of official delegations.
This week, while Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca met in Washington with Secretary of CommercePenny Pritzker and Secretary of State John Kerry, a delegation of U.S. members of Congress and businesspeople landed in Havana to explore the scene and the Cuban market.
Precisely at that time, the White House and Havana announced the visit to Cuba next March of U.S. President Barack Obama.
The civil aviation document’s clauses establish the possibility of making up to 20 regular daily flights from the United States to Havana, the Caribbean nation’s largest market. It also admits up to 10 flight frequencies between U.S. cities and another nine Cuban airports (Camagüey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba).
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation AffairsThomas Engle,a member of the official delegation present at the memorandum’s signing, underlined that it is important to remember that the current level (of commercial flights) is zero.
Trips between both countries have gradually increased since December 17, 2014, but only through charter flights authorised since 1977. In 2015, some 160,000 U.S. citizens arrived in Cuba, for a 57 per cent increase with respect to 2014, despite the fact that Washington still bans the possibility of its citizens doing so for tourism; it only gives licenses for 12 categories: religious, family, health, academic, cultural, business reasons, and others.
The memorandum indicates that the signing parties do not rule out an increase in air traffic between both countries, since it establishes that the competent authorities will be able to apply for increases in flight frequencies during each season. It also previews that the airlines of both countries reach commercial agreements of collaboration.
The Cuban transport minister highlighted that the text establishes the commitment of both countries to protect civil aviation against acts of illegal interference and reiterated the will to act according to the international agreements which both countries are signatories to.
The document had barely been signed when U.S. airlines like Delta Airlines stated their aim of applying for routes from the Department of Transportation.
The U.S. authorities promised to start soon the review of the applications and the analysis of the plans’ feasibility. They expect to have an answer during the summer months, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International AffairsBrandon Belford explained to journalists. Taking into account that the airlines will also have to meet the requirements before the IACC and other entities of the Cuban side, the forecast is that the first flights to the island are to start operating at some time in autumn, according to Belford. (2016)
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