HAVANA, Dec. 17th (AP) The United States and Cuba have struck a deal to allow as many as 110 regular airline flights a day, jumpstarting economic relations that have languished despite a year of rapid progress on the diplomatic front, U.S. and Cuban officials said Thursday on the anniversary of detente between the Cold War foes.
The deal reached Wednesday night after three days of talks in Washington opens the way for U.S. airlines to negotiate with Cuba’s government for routes that could bring thousands more visitors a day to the island. The reestablishment of commercial U.S. flights to Cuba after half a century would be the biggest business development since the two countries began normalizing relations last year.
Thomas Engle is the deputy assistant secretary for transportation affairs and he tells The Associated Press, that the deal struck by the two countries Wednesday allows 20 flight a day to Havana and 10 to other cities. The commercial flights would be in addition to charter flights that are currently the only way to fly between the U.S. and Cuba. He says there are 10 to 15 charters daily to Havana, and a few to other cities.
The State Department said Thursday that the deal allowed the establishment of scheduled air service and the continuation of the charter flights that are currently the only way of flying directly between the U.S. and Cuba.
The United States and Cuba publicly say they’re delighted with the state of diplomatic relations a year after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared the end to more than 50 years of official hostility. The two countries have reopened embassies in Havana and Washington; agreed to a pilot program restarting direct mail service; signed two deals on environmental protection; and launched talks on issues from human rights to compensation for U.S. properties confiscated by Cuba’s revolution.
The U.S. Secretaries of state, commerce and agriculture and the Cuban-born deputy secretary of homeland security have all made official visits to start discussions on unsexy but vital technical matters like produce inspection and port regulations.
The return of commercial flights appears certain to create a surge in travel that would place heavy strain on Cuba’s already overstrained tourist infrastructure. Hotels and private hostals are booked for months.