Cuba

U.S. air marshals will be aboard Cuba flights

Kevin Mase, an American Airlines chief pilot, draps a Cuban flag from an AA Boeing 737 on Dec. 16, 2015 -- the day the United States and Cuba said they had reached an agreement on restoring commercial air service between the two countries.
Kevin Mase, an American Airlines chief pilot, draps a Cuban flag from an AA Boeing 737 on Dec. 16, 2015 -- the day the United States and Cuba said they had reached an agreement on restoring commercial air service between the two countries. TNS

A sticking point in resumption of commercial airline service to Cuba has been resolved: U.S. air marshals will travel on certain flights to Cuba.

At the request of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, the Transportation Security Administration released a statement addressing the issue of federal air marshals on flights to and from Cuba. Regularly scheduled service to Cuba is tentatively scheduled to resume after a hiatus of more than five decades on Aug. 31 when JetBlue begins service from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Santa Clara, Cuba.

Pending final approval from the Cuban government, other airlines, including American Airlines, are scheduled to begin their inaugural service to destinations outside the Cuban capital soon after that. The U.S. Department of Transportation has tentatively approved Havana routes for eight airlines and is expected to announce final approvals later this month.

“In the spirit of enhancing the security of international civil aviation, the United States and The Republic of Cuba entered into an aviation security agreement that sets forth the legal framework for the deployment of U.S. in-flight security officers — more commonly known as federal air marshals — on board certain flights to and from Cuba,” said the TSA statement. “For security reasons, we will not divulge which flights air marshals will be aboard.”

For security reasons, we will not divulge which flights air marshals will be aboard

TSA statement

The TSA said the agreement “will strengthen both parties’ aviation security efforts” and that it will continue to work with Cuba to expand air marshal presence on flights and to enhance security.

During testimony before a House Committee on Homeland Security subcommittee TSA Representative Larry Mizell said that the TSA had worked with the government of Cuba to “share with them best practices and lessons learned” to make sure any security concerns discovered at Cuban airports are remedied.

“We wouldn’t fly to a place that we don’t think is safe,” Martha Pantin, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, said Tuesday. American is scheduled to begin its commercial service to Cuba on Sept. 7 with flights to Cienfuegos and Holguín from Miami International Airport.

We wouldn’t fly to a place that we don’t think is safe

Martha Pantin, American Airlines spokeswoman

Even though it will be American’s first ever scheduled service to Cuba, it has leased its planes for the past 25 years to charter companies flying to the island. Last year, there were 1,200 charter flights that used AA planes.

Air marshals serve as “an active last line of defense against terrorism and air piracy, and are an important part of a multilayer strategy adopted by the U.S. to thwart terrorism in the civil aviation sector,” the TSA said.

In July, four members of Congress, including three Republicans and a Democrat, said they wanted to stop Obama administration efforts to resume regularly scheduled flights to Cuba until the TSA certified that Cuban airports have appropriate security measures. One of their concerns was whether air marshals would be aboard Cuba flights.

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