STATE DEPARTMENT - For the first time in 50 years, people in the U.S. and Cuba soon will be able to fly on regularly scheduled commercial airliners between the two countries, senior U.S. officials announced Friday.
Under a U.S.-Cuba bilateral civil aviation agreement, up to 110 flights a day will be allowed.
"U.S. airlines will be able to offer scheduled service between any city in the United States and any city in Cuba," Thomas Engle, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation Affairs, said Friday.
Representatives of the two nations will sign the agreement Tuesday in Havana, as the two nations continue to take steps to normalize relations following a freeze on travel and trade dating back to the Cold War.
Starting Feb. 16, U.S. cargo and passenger airlines will have 15 days to submit applications for travel routes. A decision would be made "sometime this summer" selecting U.S. carriers and cities, Brandon Belford, a senior official at the U.S. Department of Transportation, told reporters Friday.
The agreement would allow U.S. carriers to operate up to 20 daily scheduled round trips between U.S. cities and Havana and up to 10 daily round trips serving each of nine other international airports in Cuba.
Current charter services between the U.S. and Cuba will not be affected, and will be allowed to continue with unlimited frequency, said U.S. officials.
The U.S. has lagged behind other western countries flying to Cuba because of previous U.S. restrictions on travel there.
While U.S. law prohibits travel to Cuba for tourist activities, U.S. government officials say this arrangement will strengthen people-to-people contacts between the two countries by facilitating travel for other reasons.
U.S. and Cuba completed aviation negotiations last December, around the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2014.