Transportation officials from the United States and Cuba met Tuesday in Havana to sign an historic travel agreement that will allow commercial flights between the two countries for the first time in decades.
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Cuban Minister of Transport Adel Yzquierdo Rodríguez authorized the accord at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in the island’s capital city.
“Today is a historic day in the relationship between Cuba and the US,” said Mr. Foxx. “It represents a critically important milestone in the US effort to engage with Cuba.”
“The adoption of this memorandum is an important step that will soon permit the establishment of regular flights between the United States and Cuba,” said Mr. Yzquierdo Rodríguez.
Legal commercial travel is one of the first concrete steps in rebuilding diplomatic and economic ties since President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced their desire to thaw their countries' chilly relations in late 2014.
The renewed relations will be one of Mr. Obama’s biggest legacies, and could see him visit Havana within the coming months.
The two countries had been at odds for more than half a century following the overthrow of then-Cuban president Fulgencio Batista in 1959 by Fidel Castro’s forces. Following the Cuban Revolution, Mr. Castro’s government announced its association with the Communist Party and Marxist-Leninist ideals. In practice, this meant nationalizing its industries, including some owned by US companies.
Since 1960, the US has imposed various economic and political restrictions on Cuba. While the US embargo imposed on Cuba remains in place, travel limitations have eased and 160,000 Americans flocked to the island in 2015.
Restarting commercial air traffic will allow hundreds of thousands more to visit Cuba, offering an easier and cheaper option than the current charter flight system that runs out of Miami. The new agreement also allows flights to leave from airports around the US.
US airlines now have 15 days to apply for rights to the Cuban routes. American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United have already expressed interest in bidding for the 110 daily flights between the US and Cuba.
The announcement comes one day after the Obama administration approved building plans for the first US factory in Cuba since Castro’s revolution. The facility, to be run by an Alabama-based tractor company, will provide equipment for small farms and should open by 2017.