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U.S., Cuba to restart commercial air service

Michael Weissenstein
Associated Press

Havana — The United States and Cuba will sign an agreement next week to resume commercial air traffic for the first time in five decades, starting the clock on dozens of new flights operating daily by next fall, U.S. officials said Friday.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will fly to Havana on Tuesday to cement the deal. It would be the most significant development in U.S.-Cuba trade since Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced in late 2014 that they would begin normalizing ties after a half-century of Cold War opposition.

Under the deal U.S. airlines can start bidding on routes for as many as 110 U.S.-Cuba flights a day — more than five times the current number. All flights operating today are charters.

The agreement allows 20 regular daily U.S. flights to Havana, in addition to the current 10-15 charter flights a day. The rest would be to other Cuban airports.

U.S. visitors to Cuba will still have to qualify under travel categories authorized by the U.S. government. Tourism is still barred, but the number of legal reasons to go to Cuba — from organizing professional meetings to distributing information to Cubans — has grown so large and loosely enforced that the distinction from tourism has blurred.