The United States and Cuba will sign an agreement next week to resume commercial air traffic for the first time in five decades, starting the clock on dozens of new flights operating daily by next fall, U.S. officials said Friday, February 12, according to the Associated Press.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is scheduled to fly to Havana on Tuesday to cement the deal. Barring other major announcements, it would be the most significant development in U.S.-Cuba trade since Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced in late 2014 that they would begin normalizing ties after a half-century of Cold War opposition.
The Obama administration is eager to make rapid progress on building trade and diplomatic ties with Cuba before the president leaves office. The coming weeks are seen as particularly crucial to building momentum ahead of a trip he hopes to make to Havana by the end of March.
“This (agreement) provides for a very important, sizeable increase in travel between the two countries, and that reinforces the president’s objective” of building ties, said Thomas Engle, deputy assistant secretary of state for transportation affairs.
Under the deal U.S. airlines can start bidding on routes for as many as 110 US-Cuba flights a day — more than five times the current number. All flights operating today are charters.
Officials hope to parcel the routes out among carriers by this summer, allowing flights to begin by the time Obama leaves office.
The agreement allows 20 regular daily U.S. flights to Havana, in addition to the current 10-15 charter flights a day. The rest would be to other Cuban airports, most of which have far less demand than the capital.