Feb. 13, 2015

Despite press reports to the contrary, Cuba is not fully open for U.S. business, and American citizens still are prohibited from traveling there as tourists. Operators considering flights to the island nation should carefully review the requirements and limitations on such operations, as well as the types of travel authorized, as there are significant civil or criminal penalties for violating the U.S. embargo.

While there is substantial interest in flying to Cuba, most of the restrictions on business aircraft flights have not changed, noted Brian Koester, NBAA’s project manager of operations. For example, private operation of any N-registered aircraft will still require an advance “temporary” sojourn license from the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). This authorization can take several months to obtain, making it difficult to arrange private flights to Cuba. In addition, a private operator would need to comply with most of the FAR and Customs requirements for air carriers.

Air carriers, including Part 135 air taxi operators, can now operate more easily to Cuba, but most restrictions and requirements for commercial carriers remain unchanged. These special requirements include:

  • Required amendments to FAA operations specifications to allow operations to Cuba (Opspec B050).
  • Compliance with filing requirements set forth in FAR 91.709.
  • Operations restrictions to and from certain portal airports. In particular, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has issued a list of airports authorized to handling customs clearance for flights to and from Cuba. Operations from other airports of entry in the U.S. must be pre-approved by CBP. Flights departing or arriving at other locations should be pre-cleared through customs.
  • Air carriers required to have TSA-approved security plans should check with that agency regarding any special requirements for Cuba flights.
  • Compliance with recordkeeping requirements of the carrier service provider and travel service provider provisions.

There also are AOG, insurance and finance considerations. The export to Cuba of replacement parts and equipment to repair a civil aircraft – even on a temporary basis – is not authorized. Thus, an operator would need a license from the BIS for the export of parts and equipment to Cuba. Air carriers that routinely fly to Cuba may be able to obtain advance approval for such a contingency.

Many aircraft loans and leases contain prohibitions on operations to Cuba or other U.S.-sanctioned countries, added Koester. Although a U.S. insurer could lawfully insure a flight if such a flight was “authorized,” operators should check their policies and consult with their insurance broker before assuming such flights are not excluded.

Review additional resources about travel to Cuba.