Can you fly to Cuba? Maybe!
In December 2014, President Obama announced an initiative that would reestablish diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba and facilitate travel by authorized people between the two countries and with lightning speed the U.S. Department of Treasury has announced regulatory amendments to the Cuba sanctions effective, January 16, 2015.
The measures announced as published in the Federal Register will facilitate travel to Cuba for authorized purposes, facilitate the provision by travel agents and airlines of authorized travel services and the forwarding by certain entities of authorized remittances, raise the limits on and generally authorize certain categories of remittances to Cuba, allow U.S. financial institutions to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions, authorize certain transactions with Cuban nationals located outside of Cuba, and allow a number of other activities related to, among other areas, telecommunications, financial services, trade, and shipping. Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions could result in penalties under U.S. law.
To see the Treasury regulations, which can be found at 31 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), part 515, please click here. To see the Commerce regulations, which can be found at 15 CFR parts 730-774, please click here. The regulations are effective as of Friday, January 16, 2015. Major elements of the changes in the revised regulations include:
- In all 12 existing categories of authorized travel, travel previously authorized by specific license will be authorized by general license, subject to appropriate conditions. This means that individuals who meet the conditions laid out in the regulations will not need to apply for a license to travel to Cuba.
- These categories are: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
- The per diem rate previously imposed on authorized travelers will no longer apply, and there is no specific dollar limit on authorized expenses. Authorized travelers will be allowed to engage in transactions ordinarily incident to travel within Cuba, including payment of living expenses and the acquisition in Cuba of goods for personal consumption there. <
- Additionally, travelers will now be allowed to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba.
Travel and Carrier Services – Travel agents and airlines will be authorized to provide authorized travel and air carrier services without the need for a specific license from OFAC.
Insurance – U.S. insurers will be authorized to provide coverage for global health, life, or travel insurance policies for individuals ordinarily resident in a third country who travel to or within Cuba. Health, life, and travel insurance-related services will continue to be permitted for authorized U.S. travelers to Cuba.
Importation of Goods – Authorized U.S. travelers to Cuba will be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods acquired in Cuba for personal use. This includes no more than $100 of alcohol or tobacco products.
There are many other areas addressed in the amendment that are not relevant to general aviation, so please reference the US Treasury website of the Federal Register for a complete listing.
Upon learning of the announcement AOPA immediately began working with the FAA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to get the most up to date information needed to ensure pilots wanting to make this journey are able to do so legally. Information is still being developed that will provide clarification on what you need to do before you go.
Currently there is a Federal Aviation Regulation that places restrictions on flights operating from the United States.
91.709 Operations to Cuba. No person may operate a civil aircraft from the United States to Cuba unless—
(a) Departure is from an international airport of entry designated in §6.13 of the Air Commerce Regulations of the Bureau of Customs (19 CFR 6.13). Click here for the list of airports.
(b) In the case of departure from any of the 48 contiguous States or the District of Columbia, the pilot in command of the aircraft has filed—
(1) A DVFR or IFR flight plan as prescribed in §99.11 or §99.13 of this chapter; and
(2) A written statement, within 1 hour before departure, with the Office of Immigration and Naturalization Service at the airport of departure, containing—
(i) All information in the flight plan;
(ii) The name of each occupant of the aircraft;
(iii) The number of occupants of the aircraft; and
(iv) A description of the cargo, if any.
This section does not apply to the operation of aircraft by a scheduled air carrier over routes authorized in operations specifications issued by the Administrator.
AOPA is awaiting further guidance from the FAA and will post this information as soon as it becomes available.
These two documents from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) are still in effect but may be irrelevant in the near future: Cuba Travel Advisory and What You Need to Know About U.S. Sanctions Against Cuba.
However, AOPA is working with the FAA and will post the latest information on flying to Cuba on this page as it becomes available.
Overflying Cuba - You still need a permit
Civil aircraft overfly Cuba routinely. It is not especially difficult, but it does require that pilots follow the established procedures. Private pilots with overflight permits may fly through Cuban airspace via published airways. These airways are shown on the Caribbean and South American IFR Low Altitude Enroute charts.
The process for acquiring the overflight permits has recently changed. As of December 2013 a modification of the U.S. Code of Regulations allows operators of U.S. registered aircraft to contact Cuba directly and pay Cuba for overflight permits without the need for an Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) license. Payment is made to Cuba in Euros through a bank in Panama. If you do not want to do the permit work yourself, you can use a third party provider for a fee. Regardless of how you choose to do it, it is critical that it is done!
At the same time, Cuba has tightened up on the issuance of permits. The primary changes are:
Aircraft with an MTOW greater than 6,600 lbs will not be exempted from permit or airspace fees, no matter who is flying the aircraft nor what the purpose of the flight is.
All permits requested by companies on behalf of third parties will be assessed permit or airspace fees. For a flight to be exempted from the Cuban permit fees, the owner of the aircraft must contact the Cuban permit department directly to request the permit and the exemption. The Cuban authorities will evaluate each request individually and only they can decide what flights will be exempted. The Cuban Permit department has stated that NO aircraft registered in the name of a corporation (regardless of whether it is engaged in a commercial operation or not) will be exempted from airspace fees.
Some third-party companies that can request an overflight permit for a pilot for a fee are listed under the Resources tab. The list is not all inclusive; there are many companies that provide this service.
Click here to read answers to frequently asked questions related to Cuba.