The United States and Cuba have reached an agreement to resume commercial air travel between the two countries for the first time in more than half a century, the State Department announced Thursday.
“This arrangement will continue to allow charter operations and establish scheduled air service, which will facilitate an increase in authorized travel, enhance traveler choices and promote people-to-people links between the two countries,” according to the announcement.
U.S. law still bars travel to Cuba for tourism.
The deal was finalized last night. The official could not say when flights would actually resume, because there are other steps the Federal Aviation Administration needs to take to ensure certain safety regulations are in place.
Members of the airline industry praised the decision.
“Interest in Cuba has reached levels not seen for a generation,” said Scott Laurence, senior vice president airline planning, JetBlue. “We will review the terms of the agreement to understand how JetBlue can expand from charter service to regularly scheduled service. Our years of experience in Cuba and unmatched customer experience positions JetBlue as the carrier of choice for travel to Cuba.”
And following today’s announcement, American Airlines plans to submit a U.S.-Cuba service proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation with the hope of introducing scheduled service soon in 2016.
The renewal of air travel is the latest step in the thawing relationship between the two countries which persisted even after the Cold War ended.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla traveled to Washington in July to re-open Cuba’s U.S. embassy, and Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Cuba a month later to re-open the U.S. embassy there for the first time since 1961.
“When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anyone thought it would be more than half a century before it reopened,” Obama said in a July Rose Garden statement.
And in April, Obama met for an hour with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro, the first time the two nations’ top leaders have sat down for substantive talks in more than 50 years.
But not all Cold War vestiges have been cast off – the embargo remains in place with support from Republican lawmakers who have railed against President Barack Obama’s efforts to renew relations with Cuba.
CNN’s Eugene Scott contributed to this report.