May 2, 2016
A new U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility at the Florida Keys Marathon International Airport (MTH) is one more sign of the increasing excitement being generated among operators over the eventual opening of Cuba to business aviation flights.
The $1.64 million, 4,200-square-foot facility, which opened April 20 and was partially funded by a Florida Department of Transportation grant, already is drawing flights from the Bahamas and other Caribbean destinations, according to Thomas Henderson, assistant director of airports of MTH and Key West International (EYW).
The airport has no commercial airline operations, making the opening the new CBP complex all the more important for the entrepreneurs and companies using business aviation to access the airport.
“Since [the grand opening] we’ve had eight international arrivals, six of which originated in the Bahamas,” said Henderson. “I think that Bahamas arrivals will continue to be the largest point of origin for the time being, but Cuba arrivals will very likely increase in the coming months. For example, a locally based charter company recently announced that they will be offering service to the Bahamas, and they have expressed an interest in offering the same service to Cuba as regulations allow.”
Currently, anyone flying to Cuba must comply with U.S. regulations and travel under one or more of 12 categories – two of which require sponsorship and oversight of a legal American entity. Travelers to Cuba also must complete a travel affidavit.
Another issue, especially for general aviation pilots, is that Cuba largely has limited infrastructure to service those flights, said Sarah Wolf, NBAA’s senior manager of security and facilitation. Nonetheless, Wolf said the prospect of the eventual opening of Cuba to business aviation air traffic is an exciting development.
“NBAA welcomes the addition of another CBP facility to expedite the processing of business aviation flights to South America and the Caribbean, especially Cuba, which is a developing destination for many business aviation flights,” she said.
Henderson also reported that interest in Cuba is strong, despite the limits. “With the recent removal of Subpart O from 19 CFR Part 122, travel to and from Cuba will be treated similarly to any other international destination,” he said.
He advises pilots interested in flying to Cuba to stay current with regulations, which have changed significantly this year. “Additionally, I recommend that pilots communicate directly with the CBP office so they can get the latest information straight from the source,” he said.