The decades-long wait is nearly over. Scheduled air service between the US and Cuba took another step forward this week as the US Department of Transportation approved applications from six airlines to serve nine Cuban airports from five US gateways. Service must commence within 90 days and operate at least once every 90 days after commencing for the airlines to retain the slot and not have it declared dormant and returned to the DoT for reallocation.
The ruling does not include the coveted Havana slot allocations, however, leaving airlines waiting to determine who will win that contested allocation. And, despite all of the non-Havana service being uncontested and below the total permitted allocation threshold there will be one airline disappointed with the ruling as its application was deferred.
American won the right to operate service between its Miami hub and five destinations within Cuba: Camagüey (1x daily), Cienfuegos (1x daily), Holguin (1x daily), Matanzas (2x daily) and Santa Clara (2x daily).
Frontier won the right to operate service from:
- Chicago to Matanzas (1x weekly) and Santiago de Cuba (1x daily)
- Philadelphia to Camagüey (4x weekly), Matanzas (1x weekly) and Santa Clara (3x weekly)
JetBlue received authority to operate from its hub at Fort Lauderdale to Camagüey (1x daily), Holguin (1x daily) and Santa Clara (1x daily)
Southwest is authorized to operate from Fort Lauderdale to Matanzas (2x daily) and Santa Clara (1x daily)
Sun Country Airlines won the rights to to provide service from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Matanzas (1x weekly) and Santa Clara (1x weekly)
The Department allocates to Silver Airways the following route frequencies:
- Fort Lauderdale-Camagüey service (5x weekly)
- Fort Lauderdale-Cayo Coco (3x weekly)
- Fort Lauderdale-Cayo Largo del Sur (1x weekly)
- Fort Lauderdale-Cienfuegos (2x weekly)
- Fort Lauderdale-Holguin service (1x daily)
- Fort Lauderdale-Manzanillo (3x weekly)
- Fort Lauderdale-Matanzas (4x weekly)
- Fort Lauderdale-Santa Clara service (1x daily)
- Fort Lauderdale-Santiago de Cuba (1x daily)
In total there are nearly 150 weekly flights now authorized between the US and Cuba and, while most will operate unopposed there will be competition in a few markets. Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara will see daily service from JetBlue, Southwest and Silver while AA will operate it twice daily from Miami. Matanzas will also see competition from South Florida with 4x weekly service from Fort Lauderdale by Silver and twice daily service from Southwest; American will offer twice daily service as well.
Eastern Airlines is likely to be disappointed in the ruling as its application was deferred; at least it wasn’t outright denied. The DoT notes
Eastern has not completed the necessary licensing steps to conduct scheduled air transportation, and that Eastern is currently limited to providing charter flights only…. In the circumstances presented, the Department believes the best approach is to defer action on Eastern’s request for non-Havana frequencies and exemption authority at this time.
With a 90 day window to commence operations things will move quickly now for these five airlines. Getting ground handling and other services established in Cuba is not a trivial task. Doing it at the smaller, remote airports outside Havana will be even more challenging.
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