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article imageU.S. and Cuba nearing deal to resume commercial flights

By Nathan Salant     Feb 15, 2016 in World
Havana - Commercial airline flights between the United States and Cuba could begin later this year if a new agreement between the former Cold War enemies is signed this week, U.S. officials said Friday.
Toward that end, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is expected to fly to Havana on Tuesday to iron out details of the deal, expected to open up airline travel to from the U.S. to Havana and cities such as Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Holguin and Santa Clara.
The visit is being called "the most significant development" in U.S.-Cuba relations since the two countries agreed to begin normalizing relations last year after decades of Cold War-inspired tension, according to the Associated Press.
This (agreement) provides for a very important, sizable increase in travel between the two countries, and that reinforces the president's objective" of building ties, " Thomas Engle, the deputy assistant secretary of state for transportation affairs, told the AP.
U.S. President Barack Obama is said to be anxious to rebuild business and diplomatic ties with Cuba before his term in office ends in January.
Obama could be planning to visit Cuba next month, the AP said.
The travel deal allows as many as 110 flights daily from trhe U.S. to Cuba, more than five times the number permitted currently. The 20 flights now operating are all charters, the news service said.
Twenty of those daily will be from U.S. cities to Havana with the rest to various airports throughout the island.
Routes will be distributed to interested airlines this summer, with flights beginning before the end of Obama's term.
More than 150,000 U.S. travelers flew to Cuba last year, along with hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans visiting family on chaotic charter flights from Florida, the AP said. Tourism is still barred.
The deal does not include flights from Cuba to the United States, where millions of dollars in legal claims against the Cuban government are pending that could result in seizures of planes owned by Cuba's national airlines..
If the deal is announced Tuesday as anticipated, a 15-day window will open for U.S. airlines to request rights to Cuba cities and then begin negotiating with Cuban aviation officials, the AP said.
"They have already had numerous trips and conversations to grease the skids for when this becomes a possibility," said Brandon Belford, the deputy U.S. assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs.
Many U.S. carries already have said they would bid on Cuba routes, including American, United, Jet Blue, Southwest and Spirit Airlines, the news service said.
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