Operating to Cuba: Latest Regulations for Business Aviation

Operating to Cuba: Latest Regulations for Business Aviation

Please note that this article and the materials available herein are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain legal advice before operating to Cuba.

General aviation (GA) travel to Cuba with U.S.-registered aircraft and crew is opening up and becoming more user-friendly. However, this is still a highly-regulated operating environment. Regulatory changes that went into effect January 27 ease and facilitate private non-revenue and charter (non-scheduled commercial) operations to Cuba – but only for certain approved types of GA flights.

The following is an overview of what you need to know:

1. Changes to U.S. requirements

Effective immediately, the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) is allowing an exception to the requirement to have a Temporary Sojourn license for travel to and from Cuba on a private aircraft. It’s referred to as the Aircraft, Vessels and Spacecraft (AVS) exception. So now, U.S.-registered aircraft may travel to Cuba without Temporary Sojourn licenses so long as 1) they meet conditions of the AVS exception and 2) aircraft do not remain in country more than seven days.

In addition, as of January 27, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added a provision under a general license for crew to remain with the aircraft in Cuba. If the nature of your flight does not qualify for a general license be aware that obtaining a specific license from OFAC for travel to Cuba can take as long as three months.

2. Available airports when operating to Cuba

Based on the latest changes, GA may depart to and from Cuba from any airport in the U.S. This regulation applies to both U.S. – and foreign-registered aircraft operating between the U.S. and Cuba. With these changes, operators are now permitted to operate from any U.S. airport to Cuba and return to the U.S. via any customs designated field. As operators will be entering the U.S. from the south, you will need to first land at a designated airport, or utilize a Border Overflight Exemption for any flights wishing to land at another airport of entry. Note that your flight to and from Cuba must be direct with no intermediate stops in between.

4/15/2016: Updated by the author

3. Cuban landing permits, lead times and available airports

Lead time for a Cuban landing permit is five business days, and the permit is valid for the entire Zulu day. Note that there are currently 11 international airports of entry (AOE) and 15 domestic airports in Cuba available for GA operations. It’s important to be mindful that all flights within Cuban airspace must be on an instrument flight rule (IFR) flight plan.

4. Business sponsors

For travel to Cuba it’s always been a permit requirement to provide business sponsor information. Note that you may not use a tourist or travel agency for your sponsor as the Cuban Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will not process your landing permit request when using a 3rd-party provider, and you’ll be required to try to obtain it on your own.

5. Prior to travel considerations

Before departing for Cuba, the operator must provide immigration officials with route of flight and a manifest listing all persons onboard. Once this is done the aircraft may depart. At the moment there seem to be cases where immigration officials at portal airports have not been enforcing this requirement. But, we expect this to change as more GA flights operate to Cuba.

6. Prior to return considerations

For return to the U.S. from Cuba, CBP officials may ask to see the general or specific licenses for everyone onboard the aircraft. If they do not receive this information the flight may not be accepted for CBP clearance. It’s important, therefore, that all onboard carry all appropriate documentation for return to the U.S.

7. Traveling with foreign passengers and additional crew

Foreign nationals are permitted to depart the U.S., onboard U.S.-registered aircraft, and fly to Cuba. However, these passengers are subject to the same rules as U.S. nationals in terms of meeting general or specific licensing requirements. Additional crew members, such as flight attendants and flight mechanics, fall under the same category as “crew” and are permitted to remain in Cuba with the aircraft under a general license.

8. Time on the ground

Maximum length of stay for a U.S.-registered aircraft on the ground in Cuba, as per BIS regulations, is seven nights. However, be mindful that recent regulatory changes from OFAC do not clearly define how long crew may remain in country. In the regulations they refer to “Such travel-related transactions by such personnel are limited to the duration and scope of their duties in relation to the particular temporary authorization.” Complete information in the Federal Register—Vol. 81 No 17 (issued on January 27, 2016) – can be found under paragraph 515.560.

9. Arrival in Cuba

U.S. persons traveling to Cuba currently require business and not tourism visas. It’s recommended to obtain Cuban visas prior to arrival in country rather than upon arrival. While it’s possible to process business visas on arrival in Cuba, this process takes time and has potential to delay passengers at the airport. Note that eAPIS filing is needed for arrivals only.

10. Handling in Cuba

When landing at Havana (MUHA), U.S. charter flights are handled at Terminal 2, U.S. government flights are handled at Terminal 3, and private GA operations are handled at Terminal 5. As Cuba is currently experiencing an increase in flight movements, there’s been occasional confusion on the ground as to where aircraft are parked. For this reason, it’s recommended that GA operators be flexible when operating to Cuba, particularly if staying overnight.

11. AOGs in Cuba

If you experience a mechanical event, an aviation maintenance technician may travel to Cuba under the same type of OFAC general license that’s available for crew. Aviation maintenance technicians and other aircraft support talent fall under the “personnel” category in the OFAC Federal Register.


With the updated provision from OFAC, this may allow crew more leeway for travel to Cuba. However, note that it clearly doesn’t define the maximum length of stay. It’s recommended to always be diligent and checking with your legal department in determining the length of stay.

Please note that this article and the materials available herein are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain legal advice before operating to Cuba.


If you have any questions about this article or would like assistance planning your next trip to Cuba, contact me at keithforeman@univ-wea.com.