Cuba has recently changed how it processes and charges for overflight permits, which will directly affect general aviation pilots.
Cuban regulations had stated that aircraft owners who overflew Cuba with the intent to visit a country for tourism purposes were exempt from paying Cuban permit and airspace fees. Also, operators participating in aviation events or flying clubs with the intent to promote aviation were exempt from these fees.
However, Cuban officials have detected certain aircraft are being exempted from these fees that do not meet the regulatory requirements for exemption. Therefore, Cuba has determined that it is providing air traffic control services to aircraft that do not satisfy the requirements for exemption without the appropriate compensation, so it is now changing how the regulations are applied going forward.
Roberto Brown, head of Cuba’s overflight permit department, recently held a teleconference with Rick Gardner of Caribbean Sky Tours, and AOPA representative for the Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. Brown stated that going forward, only owner-pilots who contact his office directly to request a permit and explain the purpose of their flight will be exempt from permit and airspace fees. Any permit requests made by a third party will be assessed the full permit processing and airspace fees.
However, the U.S. embargo of Cuba specifically prohibits U.S. citizens from obtaining a permit from the Cuban government (even if there were no fees related to the permit); they must first obtain a license from the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Because Cuban and U.S. policies are at odds, a U.S. citizen will have to either obtain an OFAC license, then contact Cuba to request a permit, or use the services of a third party to obtain the license for them and pay for the services of the third party as well as the assessed Cuban fees.
“In the past, we had always insisted on the waiving of fees for our customers when our customer’s flight met the Cuban requirements for exemption. This was how we were able to obtain Cuban overflight permits for our customers at a minimal cost,” said Gardner. “Going forward, we will not be changing our processing fee, but we will have to add the costs of the Cuban permit and airspace fees, as well as the cost of the international wire transfer fee, to send Cuba the money. As the Cuban fees are charged in Euros, the exact cost in dollars varies due to exchange rates, but it is approximately US$ 100-150 roundtrip for the average aircraft.”
Gardner also said he’s been made aware that, on occasion, Cuban permits have been requested in Grand Cayman and Jamaica and that U.S. owners and pilots have paid Cuba directly for the fees assessed. “It is important for all U.S. pilots and U.S. aircraft owners to know that in order to request a permit, or to pay fees to Cuba related to your aircraft, you must obtain an OFAC license or retain the services of a provider that has an OFAC license,” he said.