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Cuba Prepares for First US Flight to the Island

FILE - An airport worker fuels a JetBlue plane on the tarmac of the John F. Kennedy International Airport.
FILE - An airport worker fuels a JetBlue plane on the tarmac of the John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Cuba is preparing for the first U.S. commercial flight to land in the communist country in more than five decades, the latest step in normalizing relations between the two nations.

The president of the Cuban Civil Aviation Institute, Alfredo Cordero, said Cuba will be ready for this week's flight as well as the influx of U.S. flights - expected to grow to as many as 110 per day within the next several years.

"We have successfully prepped our personnel and, in acquiring access to the necessary resources, we are now able to ensure we meet the required level of security demanded by international civil aviation standards," Cordero said.

Cuba's Vice Minister of Transportation Eduardo Rodriguez echoed those comments, saying "Cuban airports have been systematically preparing over the past few years for the increase in tourists to Cuba."

The first U.S. commercial flight will take place Wednesday when Jet Blue will fly from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to the central Cuban city of Santa Clara.

Other U.S. air carries that are planning to begin airline service to Cuba include American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.

U.S. law still prohibits most tourist visits to Cuba. However, President Barack Obama has authorized exceptions for other types of travel, including family visits, official business, journalist visits and educational tours.

Cuba has been experiencing a tourism boom since the announcement in December 2014 that the United States would normalize diplomatic ties and work to resolve various outstanding issues.

Some 300,000 Cubans living in the United States now travel home annually. In 2015, the Cuban government reported 161,233 Americans visited the island, compared to 91,254 in 2014, and arrivals through June 2016 nearly doubled compared with the same period last year.

In the last year-and-a-half, Cuba and the United States reopened embassies in Washington and Havana, some American businesses opened operations in Cuba, and U.S. cruise ships began making ports of call to the island nation.

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