UPDATE: Business Aviation Operations and Cuba – Part 2: General Aviation Considerations

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UPDATE: Business Aviation Operations and Cuba – Part 2: General Aviation Considerations

This business aviation blog post continues from our article yesterday, entitled "UPDATE: Business Aviation Operations and Cuba – Part 1: U.S. Sanction Considerations."

The starting point, when planning a trip to Cuba by a U.S. operator, is to determine the purpose of the flight and if purpose of the travel falls under approved travel by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). An important consideration is whether to take your own aircraft or use a charter flight. At this point in time charter operations to Cuba are easier to facilitate as they may not require a temporary sojourn license. Key considerations, when planning a trip to Cuba, are to give yourself plenty of lead time and to be mindful of all licensing requirements and associated lead times.

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

1. Charter versus private non-revenue flights to Cuba

Some operations of U.S.-registered private non-revenue aircraft to Cuba require a temporary sojourn license from the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) under license exception Aircraft and Vessels (AVS). While some charter operators with Air Operator Certificates (AOCs) do not need these licenses, it’s always recommended to confirm requirements with BIS, for all charter trips to Cuba.

2. Operational planning

Obtaining a temporary sojourn license for a private non-revenue aircraft involves several weeks of processing time and a multitude of considerations in terms of where you may depart from/return to in the U.S., what you may carry onboard your aircraft, and planning the services for the flight. If you don’t have sufficient lead time you may want to use a charter aircraft as this option may not require obtaining a temporary sojourn license.

3. U.S.-based service provider limitations

As of January 16, 2015, U.S. service and travel providers are no longer required to obtain OFAC specific licenses to provide services to qualified U.S. operators traveling to Cuba. Today, U.S. Travel Service Providers (TSPs) may arrange for any services to Cuba that are incident to travel. It’s also permissible for U.S. TSPs to support U.S. operators with summary and/or actual flight plans, so long as the U.S. operator qualifies under a general license or has obtained a specific license from OFAC.

4. Licensing lead times

If you require a BIS temporary sojourn license, plan on an average turnaround time of four to six weeks. Similar lead times are needed for passengers needing specific OFAC licenses. Short notice trips to Cuba are potentially possible, depending upon your ability to obtain required licenses from government authorities.

5. Validity of licenses

In most cases, a temporary sojourn license from BIS is valid for a maximum of four trips to Cuba. Temporary sojourn licenses always have specific requirements that must be met and there are expiration dates to consider. OFAC specific licenses may be valid for a single passenger trip or for travel by the passenger to Cuba over a certain period of time.

6. Cuban overflight permits

Overflying Cuba is of particular interest to many business aircraft operators. It’s important to understand that at the time of this article being published there have been no changes to the Cuban overflight process. See our previous article Understanding Cuban Overflight Permits for more information on the current process.

7. Restrictions on items brought into Cuba

There remain restrictions in place on what you’re permitted to take to Cuba. Travelers must consider the Export Authorization Regulations (EAR) 15 CFR Part 746.2, where export control numbers are given to all items that may be controlled for export (including temporary exports) to Cuba. All items you plan on bringing on the aircraft must be outlined in the temporary sojourn licenses application. If you intend to export an item that is controlled for export under the EAR, you must include that item in the completed temporary sojourn license application or a separate license application. BIS will then advise if it’s permitted or not. In practice, every item on your aircraft must have an export control number and/or an approval from BIS.

8. Purchases in Cuba

Due to changes implemented in January 2015, persons authorized to travel to Cuba may purchase alcohol and tobacco products for personal consumption not to exceed 100 USD and bring those items back to the U.S. Criminal penalties for violations of the regulations range up to 1 million USD for corporations, 250,000 USD for individuals and up to 10 years in prison.

9. Sources for additional information

For the latest information on sanctions and restrictions regarding operations by U.S. operators to Cuba, please see the OFAC and BIS sites. The Federal Register contains all the applicable regulations. Your TSP can also be an invaluable source of knowledge on what is and is not possible as well as insights into available services and credit availability in Cuba.
As for any trip, it’s always important to have a Plan B for your trip in the event that travel to the country isn’t possible.


When contemplating travel to Cuba, plan well in advance. Also, be aware that while there have been some changes to previous restrictions, the majority of restrictions for travel to the country still remain in place. It’s important to be mindful of all licensing requirements for aircraft and passengers, and to consider limitations on what may or may not be brought into/out into the country. Always have Plan B contingency arrangements in place, just in case issues develop with licenses, permits and travel arrangements.

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 any travel to Cuba.


If you have any questions about this article or would like information on U.S. sanctions, contact me at kathyself@univ-wea.com.

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