Eight airlines have gained initial approval to start scheduled services from the US to Cuba after almost 55 years of a trade embargo limiting flights between the two countries.
Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines, out of a dozen carriers that applied, won the green light to serve the largest Caribbean island from the US Department of Transportation.
The US and Cuban governments have agreed for 20 flights a day to operate, although the airlines collectively applied for 60 daily flights to Havana.
The US DoT proposed that flights start from Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando and Tampa from the autumn, subject approval by Cuban authorities. A final decision is expected later this summer.
The transportation department last month approved of six US airlines’ applications to serve cities other than Havana.
The latest breakthrough comes nearly a year after the US and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations and three months since new Carnival Corporation brand Fathom became the first US cruise line to start sailing to Cuba from Miami in more than 50 years.
Delta responded by announcing that tickets would go on sale this summer for flights to the Cuban capital from New York JFK, Atlanta and Miami to start in the autumn.
Delta inherited services to Havana from its merger with Chicago and Southern airlines in 1953 offering flights from New Orleans until political instability and profitability issues grounded flights in 1961.
The carrier ran charter flights between New York and Havana for two years from 2002 and established regular charters again five years ago before suspending service in December 2012.
US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx described the approvals as “another important step toward delivering on President Obama’s promise to re-engage Cuba”.
He added: “Restoring regular air service holds tremendous potential to reunite Cuban American families and foster education and opportunities for American businesses of all sizes."
The US DoT said its proposal allocates non-stop Havana service to areas of substantial Cuban-American population, as well as to important aviation hub cities.
“The Department’s process of selecting carriers offers an opportunity to present the public with a wide array of travel choices in the type of airline - network, low-cost, ultra-low-cost - choices of airport; and choices of non-stop or connecting service,” the approval notice said.
“The DoT’s proposed selections would simultaneously address service needs while promoting competition.”
Delta Latin America and Caribbean vice president, Nicolas Ferri, said: "We look forward to providing the market with excellent customer and operational performance that will reunite families and support a new generation of travellers seeking to engage and explore this truly unique destination.”
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