by Ann Cantrell | March 10, 2011
Charter flights between Atlanta and Cuba for medical or agricultural business, educational or religious activities and family-related visits are set to begin this summer or early fall.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport announced on March 7 that it gained approval by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to send and receive flights from the island nation, which it applied for earlier this year.
These flights further position Hartsfield as a gateway for international travel, said Jorge Fernandez, vice president of global commerce at the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
"This is important because Atlanta's airport plays a huge role in global connectivity – so this is yet one more step in that connectivity,” said Mr. Fernandez.
Noting that this decision was long overdue, he said Delta Air Lines Inc. had plans back in 2000 to start flights from Atlanta to Cuba. These plans were stifled over the next decade by political movements that tightened the embargo and decreased traffic.
This embargo has significantly limited travel to and business with Cuba since it was enacted by former President John F. Kennedy in 1962.
President Obama extended this embargo in September 2010 but eased the restrictions this January, allowing licensed chartered flights, family-visits and “purposeful travel,” including religious, cultural and educational visits, to the country.
Mr. Fernandez added that despite the new flights, business between Atlanta and the country was still in its infancy. “Travel to Cuba and business with Cuba is severely restricted based on the embargo," he said.
The flights are important for local agricultural companies with licenses from the Treasury Department to visit the country that can now leave from Atlanta, said Mr. Fernandez.
Georgia's Agricultural Commissioner, Gary Black said the flights would serve as a gateway for trade with Cuba and the surrounding area.
"We see this development and opportunity of trade with Cuba as a potential bridge to improved trade to the Caribbean, Central and South America as well as other ports in this hemisphere. This aids us in our efforts of expanding international markets for Georgia grown products and produce," said Mr. Black.
Atlanta joins seven cities including Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, New Orleans, Tampa, Fla., Pittsburgh and San Juan, Puerto Rico with flights to Cuba.
Before this announcement, the only U.S. cities with access to Cuba were Los Angeles, New York and Miami.
These flights will provide easier access for the Cuban-American population in Atlanta and the Southeast that previously visited relatives in Cuba through New York or Miami, said Mr. Fernandez.
For more information on the flights, visit www.atlanta-airport.com.