U.S-Cuba edge towards full ties, restore air-link
The deal, the latest step this year to restore U.S.-Cuba ties, is expected to increase tourism and business on the communist-ruled island.
It will allow U.S. airlines to sell tickets on their websites for flights to Cuba. However, the move does not lift the U.S. ban on general tourism to the Caribbean island. U.S. travelers still must meet at least one of 12 criteria to visit, such as being Cuban-American or partaking in educational tours or journalistic activity.
According to the U.S State Department, “While U.S. law continues to prohibit travel to Cuba for tourist activities, a stronger civil aviation relationship will facilitate growth in authorized travel between our two countries— a critical component of the President’s policy toward Cuba.”
President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014 that they planned to normalize relations, following 18 months of secret negotiations.
Since last year’s detente, the countries had restored diplomatic ties and re-opened their embassies. Obama had also taken several steps to encourage closer business ties with the island.
However, the longstanding U.S. trade embargo on the island remains in place and the Republican-controlled Congress has resisted Obama’s calls to lift it.
Cuba’s embassy in Washington said in a statement on the airline deal that the countries reiterated their commitment to flight security and to protecting civil aviation “from acts of unlawful interference.”
Airlines from both countries will be able to make commercial agreements such as sharing flight codes and leasing planes to
Airlines will have to apply for permission from U.S. regulators to fly specific routes between the countries, and the timeline for this was not immediately clear. It was also not yet clear how many U.S. flights would be allowed into Cuba.
Most U.S. airlines; including American Airlines Group Inc, Delta Air Lines Inc and United Continental Holdings Inc’ have all expressed interest in scheduling flights to Cuba.
U.S President Barack Obama relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba earlier this year. That had led to a boom in U.S. citizens’ visits to Cuba, which are up 71 percent this year, with 138,120 Americans arriving over the first 11 months.