A U.S. State Department official said Thursday that five or six major U.S. airlines are “eager” to begin scheduled service to the island, but after a second round of talks between the United States and Cuba on civil aviation matters this week, there’s still no timetable on when such service could begin.
The United States and Cuba held technical talks on civil aviation matters Monday and Tuesday in Havana and had “a good, candid exchange of views,” the official said. The first round of aviation talks was held in Washington in March and it’s possible there will be a third round of talks in coming months.
“U.S. carriers are generally eager” to reach an informal arrangement that would allow scheduled service to begin, said the official who declined to be more specific.
The official said that Cuba has made it clear it wants reciprocity — meaning it would also like its airlines to offer scheduled service to the United States.
However, that desire could be complicated by civil judgments against the Cuban government. Filed by those who claim they have suffered abuses at the hands of the Cuban government, they have been piling up to the tune of several billion dollars. The plaintiffs have won their cases by default because Cuba has chosen not to defend itself in the suits.
With Cuban aircraft flying to the United States, there is the danger planes could be seized to satisfy judgments. “Yes, that is a theoretical possibility,” said the official. “The topic has come up.”
The U.S. side has been careful to make their Cuban counterparts understand there are “executive limitations” in such matters, said the official. “I believe the Cuban side is very clear on what those limitations would be.”
Meanwhile, several commercial airlines, including JetBlue and American Airlines, have been leasing their planes to Cuban charter companies licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Having a leased JetBlue or American plane on the tarmac in Cuba is like an advance calling card for airlines interested in commercial flights to the island. “They would also like to provide scheduled service themselves,” said the official.
Working with charter companies, JetBlue has leased its planes for several Florida routes to Cuba, and it will begin a second flight from New York’s Kennedy airport to Havana on Dec. 1.
However, reaching an arrangement for scheduled service wouldn’t mean the end of Cuba charter service. “In no way are we trying to limit or restrict charters,” said the official.