General aviation has always been a staple for those who travel for business and pleasure in throughout the Caribbean. With interest in Cuba travel ramping up, in the wake of renewed U.S./Cuba relations the possibility of flying small aircraft to Cuba’s airports has spawned several pioneering flights from South Florida to the island.
Over half a century ago, Cuba had a thriving general aviation community. The largest island in the Caribbean had airfields that served cities, towns, and plantations across the Island Nation. All that ended in 1959 as Cuba fell to the Communist Revolution led by Fidel Castro.
Aviation blogger and lawyer Nick Klenske writes that Private flights to Cuba from the United States are now possible. An application is made with the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), who will determine whether or not the flight will be granted. The OFAC administers economic and trade sanctions against a foreign country within the United States government.
With the potential of general aviation flights to Cuba as one of the motivators the Florida Keys Marathon International Airport officially opened its new U.S. Customs & Border Protection Facility on April 20th.
International flights now will be able to clear U.S. Customs in Marathon, ushering in a new era for the small, regional airport that is owned and operated by Monroe County. “It’s very exciting to say we have an international airport, here in the Middle Keys,” Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers said.
A news release from Monroe County noted the 4,200-square-foot, state-of-the art facility was completed in February. The federal agency received the keys on March 4 and has spent the past few weeks setting up its IT equipment and connecting to its national network to receive flight plans and other information from international arrivals.
The facility will begin with one customs agent, enabling about 10 to 15 people to be processed per hour. With no commercial service at this time, that capacity now should be sufficient to service the general aviation flights that include corporate jets, private planes and charters. However, the facility was built with the ability to expand and process more passengers per hour, as demand increases.
The airport anticipates that traffic will increase for several reasons: the Middle Keys is growing with more tourists and residents; Cuba is opening up; and the convenience it will be able to offer transient aircraft coming from the Caribbean, Central and South America, who now have an alternative to clearing customs at the busier airports in the Miami area.
We really are anticipating more traffic here for multiple reasons,” said T. J. Henderson, assistant director of airports for Monroe County. “The Middle Keys is growing, with more tourists and residents. Cuba is opening up.” It is a 120 mile over the Straits of Florida hop to Havana, Cuba from Marathon, Florida.