First commercial air service to Cuba approved

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A street in Camaguey, Cuba.
A street in Camaguey, Cuba.

The DOT on Friday approved six airlines for commercial air service to Cuban destinations outside of Havana.

American, Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier, Sun Country and the Florida regional carrier Silver Airways will be able to offer regularly-scheduled service to the destinations as soon as this fall.

The DOT is yet to weigh-in on the far more competitive application process for the 20 daily Havana routes that U.S. carriers will be able to fly under the bilateral air services agreement that the U.S. and Cuba entered into in February.

In today's order, the DOT approved all of the routes that the six airlines applied for. The five U.S. cities that will receive new scheduled service to Cuba are Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Philadelphia. The flights will go to the Cuban cities of Camaguey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguin, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba.

Silver Airways applied for and received the most route approvals to Cuban destinations outside of Havana. The carrier plans to fly to all nine of the above Cuban cities out of Fort Lauderdale.

Only one carrier that applied for routes outside of Havana didn't receive approval Friday. The DOT deferred a decision on the application of Eastern Airlines, a Miami-based charter carrier that began operations last year. Eastern is seeking permission to fly three times a week from Miami to Holguin and Miami to Camaguey. The DOT said that several carriers have objected to the Eastern application.

"In reaching this decision, the department notes that Eastern has not completed the necessary licensing steps to conduct scheduled air transportation, and that Eastern is currently limited to providing charter flights only," the order says.

U.S. carriers have requested nearly 60 daily frequencies to Havana in total. The DOT says it will announce which of those routes it is approving later this summer.

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