Congressmen want security review of Cuban airports before allowing commercial flights

A sign directs travelers to a security checkpoint staffed by Transportation Security Administration workers at O'Hare Airport on June 2, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.

Story highlights

  • The Department of Transportation recently selected U.S. airlines to begin flights between 10 U.S. cities and Cuba
  • Rep. John Katko said he's concerned that lapses could make Cuba the "new gateway into the United States for terrorists"

Washington (CNN)Several members of Congress want to block the start of scheduled commercial flights between the United States and Cuba, saying that security measures on the island might not be sufficient.

Rep. John Katko, R-New York, said the move has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the security of the flying public.
    "It may turn out there's nothing to be worried about, but we can't take a chance," Katko told reporters Tuesday, adding that he's concerned about the increased volume in flights. Currently, limited charter flights are permitted, but after President Barack Obama announced a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, an agreement was signed between the two countries opening up scheduled commercial flights to 110 round trips a day.
    Katko, who is from Syracuse, specifically wants to know whether Cuban airports have efficient screening technology for passengers, luggage and cargo and whether the Cuban government will allow U.S. air marshals to fly on these flights. Katko said he's also concerned about how local airport workers will be vetted to avoid threats from insider threats.
    Katko said he's concerned that lapses in security at these airports could make Cuba the "new gateway into the United States for terrorists."
    The New York representative, who chairs the transportation security subcommittee, has allies in House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-North Carolina, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who introduced legislation that would block the flights until the Transportation Security Administration provides a detailed report to Congress about security measures in place at all 10 of Cuba's international airports. The legislation also calls for the Government Accountability Office to conduct an independent audit of TSA's report to Congress; an agreement between the U.S. and Cuba that would allow air marshals on flights between the two countries; and an agreement is signed between the two countries allowing TSA full access to all Cuban airports with direct flights to and from the U.S. to conduct security assessments.
    When reached for comment by CNN, the TSA referred to Assistant Administrator Paul Fujimura's testimony before Congress in May, when he said federal requirements and security standards must be fulfilled before commercial air carriers can fly to the United States.
    The TSA said it conducts assessments to determine compliance with international security requirements, including passenger screening, baggage screening, aircraft security, cargo security and airport operations.
    The move to halt flights comes one week after the Department of Transportation selected eight U.S. airlines to begin scheduled flights between Cuba and 10 cities -- Atlanta, Charlotte, Ft. Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando and Tampa. The scheduled service could begin as early as this fall.
    The world's largest airline, American, started selling tickets on flights to Cuba in June. The airline's first scheduled commercial flight to Cuba is scheduled to depart as soon as September 7.
    In response to the security concerns expressed by some members of Congress, an American Airlines official told CNN that the airline has been flying charter flights to Cuba for more than 25 years and there have not been any security issues.
    The official added, "We wouldn't fly to any airport we felt didn't fit the appropriate security or safety standard."
    Other airlines have had charter service between the two countries for years as well. Canada already has direct scheduled commercial flights to the country some of those flights fly through U.S. airspace and over U.S. cities.