U.S. airlines are hoping to lay a regular air bridge to Cuba before the end of the year. The programmed reestablishment of commercial flights between both countries depends on government negotiations that closed a second chapter on the last week of September in Havana.
“The parties dealt with issues related to air transportation, operational security and aviation security, among other questions of mutual interest,” reported a Cuban Foreign Ministry press release, which described the atmosphere of a meeting held in Havana Sept. 28 and 29 as “respectful, professional and constructive.”
According to the text, the Cuban and U.S. delegations coincided on the importance of following up those exchanges.
A U.S. official close to the talks commented on the possibility of reaching an agreement before next year. Both parties plan on meeting again, possibly before the end of 2015 and probably in Washington, he told the press, demanding anonymity. “One more meeting could be enough to seal an arrangement,” he said.
Six U.S. government agencies and counterparts from the Cuban Foreign Ministry and the Institute of Civil Aviation participated in the September meeting, according to that source.
Five U.S. airlines, including several of the most important, have expressed at some time their resolve to seal a commercial agreement with Cuba: American Airlines, United, JetBlue, Southwest and Delta. The negotiations began no sooner than presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announced last December 17 the start of public negotiations to normalise relations.
At that time, the daily The New York Times estimated that in less than a year these companies could achieve their goal. However, experts cited by that newspaper warned then about how indispensable it was to know up to what point the U.S. Congress regulations will hinder a measure of this type.
The end of the forecasted period seems near. But for the time being, the ties only include charter flights from the United States to Cuba authorised by Washington for more than two decades. American Airlines will increase this type of flights with a new link from California starting next December. Since the U.S. economic blockade bans companies like American Airlines from directly selling the tickets, it will do so through the Cuba Travel Services tour operator. Despite the restrictions, the airline is planning 22 weekly flights from Miami, Tampa and Los Angeles to several Cuban destinations.
Other companies like Delta, Sky King and JetBlue are operating similar types of flights; C&T Charters joined the bandwagon with a non-stop weekly flight from Chicago to Havana, which it plans to increase to two flights starting January. JetBlue, one of the most active, is also flying from New York.
Swift Air, together with the Island Travel&Tours tour operator, is the most recent inclusion on the list. This September 30 it inaugurated another exit door from Baltimore-Washington, Maryland, to Havana.
The charter flights comply with the criteria of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Meanwhile, intense negotiations are advancing to negotiate an informal agreement that would allow travelers to make direct reservations with the airlines. After this agreement, both parties intend to update the civil aviation agreement, currently in force but already obsolete since it is from 1953.
This week’s meeting will have taken important steps in fundamental issues such as cooperation in security and vigilance, said the official.
The economic blockade on Cuba bans U.S. citizens from traveling to the largest of the Caribbean islands as tourists. Obama’s most recent measures only relax these restrictions. Certain persons can do so with special authorization, but it was sufficient for a 60 per cent increase in U.S. citizens’ trips to Cuba: more than 100,000 visitors up to September 20.
Experts estimate that the flow would grow much more when the blockade disappears or if the U.S. Congress at least lifts the ban on tourism. The airlines, which say they are anxious for the agreement, are therefore joining the business pressures on the legislative. (2015)
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