U.S. and Cuba to sign pact on restarting commercial flights

Top U.S. officials will travel to Havana to sign an aviation pact that restores scheduled airline service between the U.S. and Cuba

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Top U.S. officials will travel to Havana on Feb. 16 to sign an aviation pact that restores scheduled airline service between the United States and Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years, the U.S. Transportation Department said on Friday.

The signing brings into effect an arrangement the Cold War foes agreed upon on Dec. 16. U.S. airlines still must apply for permission from U.S. regulators to fly specific routes before they sell tickets to Cuba.

While charter flights already connect the countries, the accord is expected to increase tourism and business on the communist-ruled island.

U.S. airlines expect a gradual payout from the arrangement. They will have 15 days starting Tuesday to submit route applications to the U.S. Transportation Department, its Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs Brandon Belford told reporters on Friday.

He said the U.S. agency will spend about a month collecting information from the airlines and others interested parties to help assess the applications, and it expects to decide in the summer which airlines are flying from which cities to Havana.

The arrangement allows only 20 round-trip flights per day between the United States and Havana, meaning interest in the Cuban capital by U.S. airlines might exceed the frequencies available to them. The arrangement also allows 10 daily round-trips to nine other international airports in Cuba.

“There could be situations where some of the non-Havana markets would not be hotly contested,” Belford said. “We will likely be in a position to make those determinations and award those frequencies to U.S. carriers in a shorter timeline.”

U.S. Transportation Department Secretary Anthony Foxx and Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin will participate in Tuesday’s signing, the Transportation Department said in a news release.

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