havana-live-americanHAVANA,July 8th  (WP)Direct service to Cuba from 10 U.S. cities could begin as early as this fall after officials with the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Thursday they have tentatively selected eight U.S. carriers to offer the flights.

The much anticipated announcement comes nearly a year after the Obama administration announced it was normalizing relations with the island nation after more than 50 years.

“Today we take another important step toward delivering on President Obama’s promise to reengage Cuba,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a prepared statement. “Restoring regular air service holds tremendous potential to reunite Cuban American families and foster education and opportunities for American businesses of all sizes.”

Among the cities selected: Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando, and Tampa. United Airlines has proposed non-stop flights between Dulles International and Havana, but that was not one of the routes chosen by DOT officials.

The eight airlines selected include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines.

“These flights open the door to a new world of travel and opportunities for our customers,” United President and CEO Oscar Munoz said. United was given tentative approval to operate flights between Newark Liberty International and Houston Bush Intercontinental airports. “We are proud of the important and historic role our airline will play in connecting the U.S. andCuba, as commercial air travel takes flight between these countries for the first time in more than 50 years.”

Executives at JetBlue, which plans to operate service between Havana and New York’s John F. Kennedy International, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International and Orlando International airports, also were celebrating.

“The addition of Havana as our fourth Cuban destination gives JetBlue the opportunity to bring everyday people traveling to and from these cities in Cuba the same low fares and great service that makes our airline the favorite way to fly in the Caribbean,” said Robin Hayes, JetBlue’s president and chief executive officer in a written statement.

Competition for the slots was fierce. DOT officials said a dozen U.S. airlines applied for the chance to offer passenger and cargo service to Havana. All together the airlines applied for nearly 60 flights per day to the capital city — far exceeding the 20 daily flights allowed under the agreement between U.S. and Cuban officials.

While some airports, including Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall, offer charter flights between the U.S. and Havana, there have been no regularly scheduled flights between the two for more than 50 years.

Officials said they focused on airlines that offered and could maintain the best ongoing service between the U.S. and Havana. The proposed routes also took into account areas with substantial Cuban-American populations. Officials in Newark said there are nearly 80,000 Cuban-American living in New Jersey, while Houston is home to nearly 20,000.

Negotiations for the proposed routes began in the spring not long after Foxx and Charles Rivkin,  the State Department’s assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs, signed an arrangement with Cuban officials that paved the way for regular scheduled air service between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years. At the time the agreement was signed officials said service would begin later this year.

In June, DOT announced approval of six U.S. airlines applications to operate service between cities other than Havana.

Objections to the DOT’s tentative decision are due by July 22. If objections are filed, responses will be due by The DOT expects to reach a final decision later this summer.  The tentative decision and other documents in the case are available online at regulations.gov — enter docket DOT-OST-2016-0021.

This chart below lists the airlines and the cities which they will be serving.

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