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February 18, 2016

U.S., Cuba Sign Agreement to Re-Establish Commercial Flights

On February 16, 2016, the United States and Cuba signed an arrangement to re-establish scheduled air services (commercial flights) between the two countries.  This signing, which formalizes a “non-legally binding” arrangement reached in December 2015, will result in the resumption of scheduled flights between the two countries for the first time in over half a century.

The new arrangement allows each country to operate up to 20 daily roundtrip flights between the U.S. and Havana and 10 daily roundtrip flights between the U.S. and each of the other nine Cuban international airports. Following the signing of the arrangement, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) invited U.S. air carriers to apply, by March 2, 2016, for allocations of the 110 potential daily roundtrip U.S.-Cuba flights. In selecting these allocations, DOT “will consider which proposals will offer and maintain the best service to the traveling and shipping public.”[1]

This arrangement does not impose any new limits or requirements on charter services, which may continue as before.

The resumption of commercial flights will significantly increase the travel choices of individuals engaging in authorized U.S.-Cuba travel. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued a general license authorizing 12 categories of U.S.-Cuba travel. A specific license from OFAC must be obtained for travel that does not fall under one of the 12 categories. Travel to Cuba for tourism remains generally prohibited.

The re-establishment of commercial flights is a significant step in furtherance of the new U.S. policy of engagement with Cuba, announced by President Obama on December 17, 2014.

[1] Progress of these allocation proceedings can be tracked at www.regulations.gov using DOT docket number DOT-OST-2016-0021.