A recent easing of tensions between the U.S. government and Cuban leadership may ultimately serve to open up the island nation to general aviation (GA), but it won’t happen overnight.
Changes recently announced by the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments allow U.S. aircraft operators authorized by the FAA to fly into Cuba to keep their aircraft there on “temporary sojourn” up to seven consecutive days. Previously, aircraft were limited to a single overnight.
The latest revisions also allow, on a case-by-case basis, for export/re-export to Cuba of items “to help ensure the safety of civil aviation and the safe operation of commercial passenger aircraft.” That includes aircraft parts and components; flight safety and ATC software and technology; and aviation weather-related equipment, airport safety equipment and devices used for security screening of passengers and baggage.
Air ambulance and other related emergency medical services for travelers in Cuba are also now authorized by general license.
Other than FAA approval, there are two key requirements U.S. operators need to meet before flying into Cuba. Pilots will need a permit from the civil aviation authority in Cuba to land at one of their designated airports, and passengers must also fall within one of the 12 travel-authorized categories such as professional research and meetings, educational, religious, humanitarian, journalistic and other defined activities.
A regulatory change on Jan. 15 eliminated a requirement to obtain a license to travel to Cuba through the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. A change on July 21 removed the need for operators to obtain a temporary sojourn license from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security.
“The Cubans do require proof of liability insurance coverage and, at the moment, this is a problem for many aircraft owners and operators as many U.S. insurance carriers and agents are simply not up to speed with the new regulations,” added Jim Parker, owner of Caribbean Flying Adventures, who has flown into Cuba several times.
Parker said of the 10 international airports in Cuba, most have Jet-A fuel and three have avgas. Landing and parking fees are based on maximum takeoff weight.
Despite these changes, it’s important to note that tourism is not yet permitted for U.S. citizens, and also that crew aren’t included in this regulatory change. This means that even though the aircraft may be permitted to stay on the ground, the crew will have to drop and go unless they secure a specific license which will take additional time to obtain.
Still, these moves may signal the start towards eventual acceptance of GA flights to and from Cuba.
“My observation is that within six months we aren’t going to have to worry about any of this,” said William McNease, CAM, vice president of operations for aircraft management and charter operator Priester Aviation, which received FAA permission in August to incorporate Cuba in its operations specifications. “It’s going to be like flying to Mexico.”