US, Cuba to sign agreement to operate commercial flights

US officials say US and Cuba will seal deal to restart commercial flights between two countries

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

The United States and Cuba will sign an agreement in late Feb. 2016 to resume commercial air traffic for the first time in five decades, U.S. officials said Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, starting the clock on dozens of new flights operating daily by next fall.

The United States and Cuba plan to sign a new agreement to provide restarting commercial air traffic for the first time in five decades, said an US official on Friday.

To bind the deal US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is expected to fly to Havana on Tuesday.

"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.

Earlier in January, the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) and the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had announced it would further ease restrictions on its Cuba sanctions regime involving exports and authorized airline travel.

The new agreement will allow 20 regular daily US flights to Havana, in addition to the current 10-15 charter flights a day. The rest would be to other Cuban airports.

Last year, almost 160,000 US citizens flew to Cuba for travel and also, hundreds of thousand flew to visit their Cuban-American family.

"They have already had numerous trips and conversations to grease the skids for when this becomes a possibility," said Brandon Belford, the Transportation Department's deputy assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs.

TRTWorld, AP