WASHINGTON / AFP
The United States and Cuba will sign a bilateral agreement authorising up to 110 scheduled daily commercial flights to Havana and nine other destinations on the communist island.
The deal restores regular flights between the two countries for the first time in more than half a century.
Once the accord is signed, US authorities will immediately invite American airlines to submit applications to operate the flights, with routes due to be set at some point in the summer, officials said.
â€œThe Cuban government (will give) thorough consideration to future requests from the US government to increase this level of service,â€ US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation Affairs Thomas Engle said.
â€œThe two governments reaffirm their commitment to strengthen their already close cooperation in aviation safety and security matters.â€
The United States announced plans to resume the flights in December, on the one-year anniversary of the start of reconciliation between Washington and Havana. Under the new arrangement, airlines in the two countries can now strike deals in such areas as code-sharing and aircraft leasing, the Cuban embassy said at the time.
However, tourist travel still remains illegal under the trade embargo that the Americans slapped on Cuba in 1960 after Fidel Castro came to power in a communist revolution.
The US Treasury Department has, however, set 12 categories of authorized travel.
â€œInitially, the US carriers will be allowed to fly 20 scheduled frequencies per day to Havana, the largest market, and remember that the current level is zero,â€ Engle said.
â€œAnd also allowed to fly 10 scheduled frequencies per day to any other city in Cuba that has an airport open to international service.â€
Besides Havana, flights will be allowed to Camaguey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguin, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs Brandon Belford said Cuban airlines will still have to obtain their own licenses from US authorities.
â€œSo we do not anticipate Cuban owned aircraft serving the US in the near future,â€ he added.
Commercial flights between Cuba and the United States were cancelled 53 years ago but since the mid-1970s authorized charter flights have been allowed under certain conditions.
The United States and Cuba formally restored diplomatic relations in July and re-opened embassies in each otherâ€™s capitals.