Although the Trump administration threatens to further limit trips to Cuba by Americans and lawsuits under the Helms-Burton Act could reach U.S. airlines, American Airlines (AA) is seeking to increase its flights to the Island.
“Our experience here has been very satisfactory. It has allowed us to continue growing, to increase the number of operations and to consolidate us as the airline with the most flights between the United States and Cuba,” Ramón Jiménez, director of AA operations on the Island, assured OnCuba. “That’s why our approach is to make a long-term bet on the Cuban market.”
The U.S. airline opened a commercial office two years ago in Havana, at a time when the number of flights and travelers from the U.S. was growing exponentially after the Obama era’s thaw. Since then, despite the rollback promoted by Trump and contrary to what happened with other companies, AA has not stopped growing in Cuba.
AA currently operates 12 daily flights to several cities on the Island, after the beginning in early May of the route between Miami and Santiago de Cuba. But in the coming months the company will increase the number of its departures.
“We are very enthusiastic about the expansion of flights to Cuba,” Jiménez said in statements prior to a working session of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on the island, held at the Iberostar Grand Packard Hotel in Havana.
The director of AA on the Island explained that starting June, his company will start operating a second daily frequency to Santa Clara ―”our second largest market today in Cuba”― while in July a sixth daily flight will begin between Miami and Havana.
“In this way we are increasing connectivity possibilities for Cuba from Miami, where we operate 356 daily flights to more than 150 destinations,” he explained, “which opens connections for those who travel from here to other parts of the world, beyond the United States.”
On the specter of the Helms-Burton, which allows U.S. citizens to sue companies that own or operate on properties nationalized after the Cuban Revolution, he said that his company is studying its “level of impact” because “it is something that right now is in full development.”
Meanwhile, about the possible restrictions on Americans’ travel to Cuba, announced by John Bolton in Miami last April and that could affect the demand for flights to Cuba, he said that it is necessary to wait “beyond the declarations that we know have been made, to see what would be the specific actions that could be taken.”
However, Jiménez confirmed the intention of AA to continue growing “always committed to bilateral agreements” for flights between the two countries.
“We continue working to expand our operations in Cuba. That is our bet at this time,” he concluded.
IATA in favor of more collaboration with Cuba
IATA‘s regional vice president for America, Peter Cerdá, affirmed to the press this Wednesday that his organization intends to “continue to help Cuba so that air transport continues to develop in the country.”
Cerdá, who presided over the opening of the event this Wednesday together with Cuban Transportation Minister Eduardo Rodríguez, explained that in the next 20 years the number of passengers traveling to the Island is expected to triple, as part of a global trend and “due to its potential” in the increase of tourism and business opportunities.
But, he stressed, “the main thing is that Cuba can prepare for this growth.”
The director, who described the island as “a very important country for global air transport” and highlighted the fact that IATA was founded in 1945, referred to the importance of having more efficient infrastructures, services and competitive facilities, qualified technology, and an adequate regulatory framework, consistent with global regulations.
“The reason we are here today is to continue helping the Cuban authorities in this purpose,” he said.
On the possible impact of the recent U.S. government measures on flights to Cuba, he said that although IATA does not interfere in intergovernmental relations, he did hope that “those barriers that are being imposed can be solved, because in the end they not only harm Cuba but also all passengers who want to come, and it has an effect on international airlines.”
The holding of the event took place a few days after the first anniversary of the tragic plane crash in Havana, which led to the death 112 people and whose “most probable cause,” according to the Cuban investigating commission, was a series of errors attributed to the crew.
In his speech, the Cuban minister of transportation did not mention the event, but “confirmed” that the airline policy on the island “has among its priorities security and protection at our airports and on our planes.”
When asked by OnCuba about this, Cerdá said that “we obviously have comments on the accident, but we prefer not to do it until the final report is made public” and confirmed that “at this moment the international authorities are still investigating.”
Some 46 airlines currently operate in Cuba, which transport 9.6 million passengers on a total of 72,000 flights each year, including connections to 44 destinations in 26 countries, according to data provided this Wednesday by IATA, which estimates that 10.6% of the Island’s GDP “comes from air transport.”