As early as September 10, 2011, Tampa’s Cuban residents will be able to fly directly to Havana, officials announced Wednesday. These flights will be the first between Tampa’s International Airport and the Cuban capital since 1962, when the U.S. implemented a trade embargo on Cuba.
Last March the Tampa airport received official approval from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to operate direct flights to Cuba, but the Cuban government did not give its go-ahead until earlier this week. The weekly flight, which will seat 145 passengers in a Boeing 737, will be operated by ABC Charters of Miami, which already offers flights between Miami and Cuba. “Accessing this vital international destination will benefit all of Tampa Bay with its economic impact, and it is great news for our Cuban-American community,” asserted Joe Lopano, CEO of Tampa International Airport.
The Tampa area has the second-largest Cuban-American population in the nation (behind Miami), according to U.S. Census figures. The new flights will open the airline runway for 140,000 Cuban-Americans who live within 90 minutes of the airport.
Shortly after President Obama’s inauguration the administration reversed restrictions imposed by President George W. Bush on the travel of Cuban-Americans to the island. And in January of this year, the administration enacted policies to allow American citizens to send up to $2,000 a year to support “private economic activity” in Cuba and facilitate “people-to-people” contact by permitting American student, religious and cultural groups to visit Cuba.
ABC Charters predicts that it will increase its services in October from one flight per week to and from Havana to two. While tickets prices have not been confirmed, ABC Charters’ president Tessie Aral said they will range from $399 to $459.