HAVANA – U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will travel to Cuba this week to be on hand at the Santa Clara airport for the landing of the first regular flight connecting the two countries in more than 50 years, Cuban Assistant Transportation Minister Eduardo Rodriguez announced Monday.
Foxx, who visited Cuba in February for the signing of the civil aviation pact reestablishing regular commercial flights between the United States and the communist island, will then travel to Havana to meet with his Cuban counterpart, Adel Yzquierdo, and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.
The arrival on Wednesday of the first flight connecting Cuba and the United States – a JetBlue flight between Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Santa Clara – is “a positive step in the process of improving relations between the two countries,” said Assistant Minister Rodriguez on Monday at a Havana press conference.
However, he emphasized that restrictions imposed by the U.S. economic embargo on the island are still in place and, among other things, that “impedes U.S. citizens from traveling freely to Cuba as tourists.”
Despite these restrictions, during the first half of 2016 Cuba welcomed 61 percent more U.S. visitors than during the same period last year, a situation fostered by the efforts of the Barack Obama administration regarding travel to the island.
Nevertheless, Cuban officials have not released their forecasts regarding how much the U.S. passenger flow could increase once regular flights between the two nations commence.
At present, the two countries are linked by some 18 daily charter flights.
The memorandum of understanding on civil aviation signed in February establishes 20 daily flights to Havana and 10 to the country’s other international airports, or up to 110 arrivals and departures per day, which presages a sharp increase in two-way air traffic in the coming months.
Besides JetBlue, Silver Airlines and American Airlines are already authorized to run regular routes to Cuba, Silver connecting Santa Clara with Fort Lauderdale starting on Sept. 1 and American beginning flights to Camagüey and Holguin, in eastern Cuba, starting on Sept. 7 and to Varadero beginning on Sept. 11.