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Commercial Flights To Resume From U.S. To Cuba

An American Airlines airplane prepares to land at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana on Sept. 19. Currently charter flights (including American Airlines charters) are the only way to fly between the two countries, but commercial flights are set to resume under a new aviation agreement.

Commercial airline flights are due to resume between the United States and Cuba — a step in the ongoing thaw in relations between the two countries.

State Department officials announced the aviation deal Thursday, a year after President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro began the process of restoring diplomatic ties.

Tourism to Cuba is booming, and reconciliation is visible in other ways, as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports for our Newscast unit:

"In the past year, the two countries have forged agreements on combating narco-trafficking, preserving the environment and re-establishing direct mail.

"But many sticking points remain before full relations are restored. Cuba wants the U.S. to lift its economic embargo and pay reparations, which the Castro regime says top $120 billion. The U.S. is seeking $18 billion for property seized in the communist takeover, and an improvement in human rights.

"Most tourists still cannot legally visit Cuba, but a State Department spokesman says having a stronger aviation relationship will promote authorized travel and improve people-to-people contact."

Some details still need to be worked out, and U.S. planes won't be landing in Cuba immediately.

The deal allows for up to 20 flights to Havana per day, and up to 10 daily flights to other Cuban cities. State Department spokeswoman Kerry Humphrey says that, besides Havana, there are nine international airports in Cuba — so the deal allows for 110 possible flights per day. (The Associated Press had initially reported up to 30 flights to Cuba per day would be permitted.)

Charter service — currently the only air transportation options between the two countries — will be allowed to continue at an unlimited frequency, Humphrey says.

No commercial flights from Cuba to the U.S. are included in the initial agreement.

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