Updated June 15, 2021

On Oct. 13, 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) suspended all charter flights between the United States and all airports in Cuba, except for authorized public charters to and from Havana and other authorized charter flights for emergency medical purposes, search and rescue, and other travel deemed to be in the interest of the United States. This reverses the previous trend of easing restrictions, as both the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued new rules relaxing certain restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba in 2016 and 2015 that implemented the following changes:

  • Private (FAR Part 91) operations of aircraft from the U.S. will no longer require an advance “temporary” sojourn license from BIS, but can use the same export exception available for air carriers.
  • Crew can now remain in Cuba for up to seven days with the aircraft and engage in travel related transactions in connection with the transportation of authorized travelers.
  • Air ambulance operations to Cuba no longer requires a special license, and operators can carry close relatives of individuals being evacuated, and evacuate individual travelers from Cuba, regardless of nationality.
  • Under a new licensing policy, and license exceptions it will be easier to support an aircraft grounded in Cuba due to a maintenance issue.
  • A U.S. air carrier could establish a physical presence in Cuba to support its provision of “carrier services” between the U.S. and Cuba.
Disclaimer: Operators planning to fly to Cuba are encouraged to use diligence to ensure their operations are made in accordance with U.S. law.

Aircraft Operations Involving Cuba

The following is an updated high-level overview for operators to Cuba. Any operator must consider both OFAC regulations, which generally restrict transactions related to Cuba by U.S. citizens, U.S. companies, and foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies; and BIS regulations that generally restrict the export of goods or technology to Cuba. (A flight from the U.S. to Cuba would be a temporary export).

OFAC General License to Provide Carrier Services

Any authorized traveler needs to arrange travel to Cuba through an OFAC-Licensed carrier service provider (CSP) or travel service provider (TSP). However, the OFAC regulatory changes permit air carriers to act on their own behalf.

OFAC requires companies providing carrier or travel services to confirm travelers who are authorized to travel (this is generally satisfied by obtaining a signed certification from the traveler for travelers traveling under general license or a copy of the license for those traveling under a specific OFAC license).

Further, the carrier is required to retain records for five years.

As a practical matter, previously licensed CSPs/TSPs, including business aviation flight routing companies, have practical experience in arranging landing rights for air carriers, making payments for landing fees and other charges in Cuba and providing other technical and logistic support.

Caution: OFAC anticipates that most air carriers will fly in and out of Cuba the same day. In business aviation, it is not an uncommon practice for pilots and the aircraft to stay in country for several days waiting for the return trip. The most recent changes to OFAC and BIS rules permit the aircraft and crew to remain in Cuba for up to seven days in connection with the transportation of authorized travelers. Additionally, crew are permitted to engage in travel-related transactions that support the trip.

Example: Telco owns a business jet operated by an air taxi operator. Telco wishes to fly a team from Miami to Cuba to hold discussions with Cubacel on the sale of telecommunications equipment.

  • The travelers would be authorized to travel to Cuba under OFAC general license.
  • An air carrier flight from the U.S. to Cuba would not require a BIS temporary sojourn license.
  • The owner or operator could arrange with a pre-existing CSP/TSP to make payments, arrange flight clearances and conduct vetting to ensure the passengers were authorized to travel.
  • Operators should ensure that their passengers have confirmed all meetings with individuals in Cuba prior to travel and they are informed to retain the detailed itinerary for the 05 year retention period, as required by the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control.An aircraft landing application must be submitted to the Cuban Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and a landing clearance granted before the aircraft departs the US. The application must include the name and contact details of the local business contact in Cuba. The business contact will be contacted directly by the CAA to verify the purpose of the visit to Cuba before they will issue the landing clearance.

Note: The operator could make its own arrangements for some or all of the activities performed by the CSP/TSP, but should do so only if the regulatory requirements are thoroughly understood.

Private Operations to Cuba

As of 2015, private (FAR Part 91) operators of “N” registered aircraft do not require an export license from BIS for the flight to Cuba. Instead, private operators can fly to Cuba and pay landing fees, etc. without need to apply for a BIS or OFAC license provided the purpose of the flight is to carry authorized travelers between the U.S. and Cuba.

Example: Telco operates a business aircraft under FAR Part 91. Telco wishes to fly a team to Cuba to hold discussions with Cubacel on the sale of telecommunications equipment.

  • The travelers would be authorized to travel under a general license to Cuba.
  • The temporary export (flight) of a private jet to Cuba would not require a BIS temporary sojourn license provided the aircraft does not remain in Cuba more than 7 days.
  • Telco could provide its own travel services in making flight arrangements or use a third-party provider.
  • Compliance with filing requirements are set forth in FAR 91.709.
  • Operations restrictions to/from certain portal airports must be considered. In particular, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has issued a list of airports authorized to handle customs clearance to/from Cuba. Operations to/from Cuba from other airports of entry in the U.S. must be pre-approved by CBP. Flights departing/arriving at other locations should be pre-cleared through Customs.
  • Pilots are permitted to stay up to seven days in Cuba during a multi-day visit in connection with the transportation of authorized travelers. Additionally, crew are permitted to engage in travel-related transactions that support the trip.

Mechanical Breakdowns in Cuba

The recent changes make it easier to support aircraft in Cuba. In particular:

  • OFAC regulations now generally allow travel to Cuba to service items lawfully exported to Cuba.
  • A person could ship one-for-one replacement parts to, replace a defective part on a U.S. aircraft that had lawfully traveled from the U.S. to Cuba. This would include most parts for a civil aircraft other than inertial navigation system components, which would require an export license from BIS The defective part must be either returned or destroyed.
  • In the past, U.S. air carriers that routinely fly to Cuba were not allowed to obtain licenses to stage fly-away kits, towbars or other items in Cuba. Under a new licensing policy, BIS may favorably consider applications for such licenses.

Compliance and Practical Issues

The U.S. embargo on Cuba remains largely in place, and operators considering flights to Cuba need to carefully review the requirements and limitations on flight operations to Cuba, as well as the types of travel authorized. It is important to also note that unless specifically related to limited humanitarian missions or governmental flights, U.S. travel service providers in compliance with the current regulations are unable to provide services to non-U.S. operators or passengers, even if they are flying aboard or operating a US registered aircraft. In addition, OFAC has specific recordkeeping requirements related to travel to Cuba that apply to the operator, the individual authorized traveler and, for group trips, the travel agency operating under a general license.

Cuban Overflight Requirements

Cuban overflight permits are required for flights that utilize airways or routes that traverse the Cuban FIR, even when the aircraft will not overfly the Cuban landmass. This route is common between FL and the Yucatan Peninsula. Flight operators should note that Airways B646 & UB646 are exempt from overflight permit requirements.

From the AIP-Cuba Gen 1.2:

All foreign aircraft entering the airspace or the jurisdictional waters of the Republic of Cuba without being under Certificate, Authorization or Special Permission, will bear responsibility for the damages and consequences derived from the violation.

All foreign aircraft flying over the national territory outside of the established limits for the corridors, without the corresponding authorization and without based justification, could be threatened to land and/or sanctioned for such infraction.

Foreign civil aircraft making non-regular crossings should request an overflight permit not less than 48 hours prior to departure time. To obtain permits, you may contact the Instituto de Aeronáutica Civil de Cuba (IACC) at +53-7838-1126 or +53 7266-4123 or via email: ppv@iacc.avianet.cu or gppv@ppv.iacc.avianet.cu.

When requesting an overflight permit, the operator shall specify:

  1. Name, nationality and official address of the operator;
  2. Type of the aircraft and its registration mark;
  3. Name of the pilot-in-command;
  4. Aerodrome of departure and destination;
  5. Air corridor to be used according to the Flight plan;
  6. Date of overflight;
  7. That applicant has liability insurance or enough guarantees to cover the indemnization for damages caused to people or goods of third parties in the surface, and
  8. If it is a passenger flight, cargo or mail.

For more information visit the Cuban web resource.

Insurance and Finance Restrictions

Many aircraft loans and leases contain express prohibitions on operations to Cuba or other U.S. sanctioned countries, in some cases without any provision for “authorized flights” to Cuba, and operators should review such restrictions.

Similarly, while a U.S. insurer could lawfully insure a flight if such flight was “authorized,” operators should check their policies and check with their insurance broker before assuming such flights are not excluded.


This resource was prepared for the NBAA Regulatory Issues Advisory Group. The principal authors are: Jonathan Epstein, Holland & Knight LLP, jonathan.epstein@hklaw.com, 1-202-828-1870 and Kathlynn L. Self, Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc., kself@univ-wea.com, 1-713-947-5576. This resource is general in nature and is not intended as legal advice with respect to any particular flight. Given the complexity of the regulations, we recommend members seek advice on the specifics of their proposed operations before undertaking flights.