House passes bill to review Cuban airport security

HAVANA, 24 oct. A bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Katko to examine Cuba’s aviation security is a step closer to becoming law.

The House of Representatives passed the Cuban Airport Security Act of 2017 by voice vote Monday. The legislation would require the Trump administration to review security equipment and procedures at Cuba’s airports that provide service to the U.S.

Katko’s bill also would mandate the standardization of Federal Air Marshal Service agreements and urges the U.S. representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization to advocate for stronger aviation security measures.

“No matter how strong our domestic airport and aircraft security is, we must continue to raise the standard of global aviation security for foreign countries and last point of departure airports,” Katko, R-Camillus, said on the House floor Monday. “It is imperative that aviation security standards are robust, and that these standards are commonplace in foreign countries, especially those with flights to the United States.”

The main focus of the bill, however, is Cuba.

After the Obama administration announced that commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba would resume after a half-century, Katko raised concerns about the island nation’s aviation security standards. At a subcommittee in May 2016, he criticized federal homeland security officials for not being transparent about Cuba’s airport security.

With little information being shared about equipment and security guidelines, Katko attempted to travel to Cuba to get a firsthand look. However, Cuba denied his request for a visa after explaining that he was planning to go there to review the aviation security system.

Not long after the denial, Katko introduced the Cuban Airport Security Act. The first version of the bill would have prohibited commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba until the Transportation Security Administration could review Cuban airport security.

Katko’s bill received support from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. The former 2016 Republican presidential candidate is the son of Cuban parents and criticized the Obama administration’s efforts to restore ties with the communist country.

The legislation didn’t advance in Congress. Katko reintroduced the revised bill in July.

There is a new reason why Katko is concerned about Cuba’s airport security. Sonic attacks targeted U.S. diplomats and their families in Cuba. The attacks affected two dozen Americans, some of whom had mild brain injuries or hearing loss.

“We have to ask ourselves if Cuba is unable to ensure the safety and security of foreign citizens and diplomats, how can it possibly prevent terrorists and other nefarious actors from accessing its airports and infiltrating flights bound for the United States?” Katko asked.