U.S. and Cuba sign agreement to resume commercial flights

The Cuban national flag is seen raised over their newly reopened embassy in Washington, July 20, 2015. The Cuban flag was raised over Havana's embassy in Washington on Monday for the first time in 54 years as the United States and Cuba formally restored relations, opening a new chapter of engagement between the former Cold War foes. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

The Cuban national flag is seen raised over their newly reopened embassy in Washington, July 20, 2015. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Officials from the U.S. and Cuba met in Havana Tuesday to sign an agreement allowing for commercial flights to resume between the two countries.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx met with Cuba’s Minister of Transportation Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez, along with officials from the U.S. State Department and the Cuban Civil Aviation Institute to sign the agreement, which was completed in December 2015.

The deal allows for a maximum of 110 flights per day between Cuba and the U.S. Of those flights, no more than 20 daily flights would go through Havana while the other nine Cuban international airports have up to 10 daily flights.

“We are excited to announce the availability of new scheduled air service opportunities to Cuba for U.S. carriers, shippers, and the traveling public, and we will conduct this proceeding in a manner designed to maximize public benefits,” Foxx said in a statement released Tuesday by the Transportation Department.

Now, U.S. airlines can start submitting applications to fly the routes. Airlines including JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, have expressed an interest in flights to Cuba.

Currently, charter flights are the only ones operating between Cuba and the U.S. Some airlines already had offered charter flights prior to the agreement, including American Airlines, which has offered charter flights since April 1991. More than 160,000 people from the U.S. visited Cuba last year on those flights, which have been called “expensive” and “frequently chaotic.”

The new agreement does not mean that Cuba is open for all American tourism. Travelers still must qualify to visit under one of several categories established by the Treasury Department, which include visiting family members, education, religious work and journalistic activity.