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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

U.S. air marshals will be aboard Cuba flights

U.S. air marshals will be aboard Cuba flights
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

A sticking point in resumption of commercial airline service to Cuba has
been resolved: U.S. air marshals will travel on certain flights to Cuba.

At the request of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, the
Transportation Security Administration released a statement addressing
the issue of federal air marshals on flights to and from Cuba. Regularly
scheduled service to Cuba is tentatively scheduled to resume after a
hiatus of more than five decades on Aug. 31 when JetBlue begins service
from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Santa Clara, Cuba.

Pending final approval from the Cuban government, other airlines,
including American Airlines, are scheduled to begin their inaugural
service to destinations outside the Cuban capital soon after that. The
U.S. Department of Transportation has tentatively approved Havana routes
for eight airlines and is expected to announce final approvals later
this month.

"In the spirit of enhancing the security of international civil
aviation, the United States and The Republic of Cuba entered into an
aviation security agreement that sets forth the legal framework for the
deployment of U.S. in-flight security officers — more commonly known as
federal air marshals — on board certain flights to and from Cuba," said
the TSA statement. "For security reasons, we will not divulge which
flights air marshals will be aboard."

The TSA said the agreement "will strengthen both parties' aviation
security efforts" and that it will continue to work with Cuba to expand
air marshal presence on flights and to enhance security.

During testimony before a House Committee on Homeland Security
subcommittee TSA Representative Larry Mizell said that the TSA had
worked with the government of Cuba to "share with them best practices
and lessons learned" to make sure any security concerns discovered at
Cuban airports are remedied.

"We wouldn't fly to a place that we don't think is safe," Martha Pantin,
a spokeswoman for American Airlines, said Tuesday. American is scheduled
to begin its commercial service to Cuba on Sept. 7 with flights to
Cienfuegos and Holguín from Miami International Airport.

Even though it will be American's first ever scheduled service to Cuba,
it has leased its planes for the past 25 years to charter companies
flying to the island. Last year, there were 1,200 charter flights that
used AA planes.

Air marshals serve as "an active last line of defense against terrorism
and air piracy, and are an important part of a multilayer strategy
adopted by the U.S. to thwart terrorism in the civil aviation sector,"
the TSA said.

In July, four members of Congress, including three Republicans and a
Democrat, said they wanted to stop Obama administration efforts to
resume regularly scheduled flights to Cuba until the TSA certified that
Cuban airports have appropriate security measures. One of their concerns
was whether air marshals would be aboard Cuba flights.

Source: U.S. and Cuba have signed an aviation security agreement
outlining the deployment of federal air marshals on Cuba flights | In
Cuba Today - http://www.incubatoday.com/news/article94669547.html
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