Russia to Help Cubana Get Fleet Back in Air This Year

Russia will help Cuba repair state-run airline Cubana’s mostly grounded fleet, likely by year’s end, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov was quoted as saying by Cuban news agency Prensa Latina on Friday.

Cubana had to cancel most domestic flights last year due to a lack of flightworthy planes and lease aircraft from other companies. The carrier uses mainly Russian and Ukrainian-made Ilyushins, Tupolevs and Antonovs partly because U.S. sanctions prevent it from buying planes with a certain share of U.S. components. Cuba’s cash crunch restricts it from paying for expensive repairs and spare parts.

After a high-level Russian-Cuban intergovernmental commission meeting in Moscow, Borisov said both sides had checked the repairs needed and had written contracts, without giving details on costs.

“Everything has passed to the practical stage and I consider that the Cuban fleet will be re-established in 2019,” he said after meeting with Cuban Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas.

“We agreed in the future to work on creating a services center in Cuba dedicated to the aviation fleet in order to avoid a repetition of a negative situation.”

One of the aircraft Cubana leased, a 39-year-old Boeing 737, crashed in May killing all but one of the 113 onboard. An investigation is underway.

Plans for Russia to upgrade Cuba’s rail network are also advancing, Borisov was cited as saying.

In 2017, state-owned monopoly Russian Railways (RZD) said it was negotiating to upgrade more than 1,000 km (621.37 miles) of Cuban railroads and install a high-speed link between Havana and the beach resort of Varadero, in what would be Cuba’s biggest infrastructure project in decades.

An RZD executive told Reuters in November 2017 the deal would be worth nearly 2 billion euros and signed by the end of the year. Since then, however, the deal’s completion has not been announced.

“We agreed to divide it into stages and optimize the necessary credits in order to carry out this project,” Borisov was cited as saying. “I expect it to be put into practise in a near future.”