UPDATE: Cuban Ops – What BizAv Operators Need to Know

PT 6 M minute read
UPDATE: Cuban Ops - What BizAv Operators Need to Know

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.

Effective July 22, 2015, a final rule issued by the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) removed Cuba from the U.S. state-sponsored terrorism risk list. While pre-existing license requirements for general aviation (GA) operations to the island still exist, operating conditions have eased somewhat. Here at Universal, we’ve had a great increase in requests for specific information on GA travel to Cuba over recent months. As travel regulations are still in flux at this time, some answers – but not all – to the most commonly asked questions are available.

Below is an overview on the latest updates regarding business aircraft travel to Cuba:

1. Temporary sojourn license changes

In the past all passengers and aircraft needed a temporary sojourn license from the Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and BIS for travel to Cuba. In the original release, there were license exceptions allowing travel to Cuba without temporary sojourn licenses if operators met certain requirements and held an air operator certificate (AOC). However, this gave charter (non-scheduled commercial) operators an advantage, as most private non-revenue operators do not have AOCs. With the changes that took place in July, the AOC requirement has been removed. This now allows U.S.-registered private operators to travel to and overnight in Cuba for one night only if they meet all other requirements. Note that, the rule changes do not specifically state that crews may overnight in Cuba with the aircraft. Therefore, it is recommended that operators traveling to Cuba reach out to OFAC to ensure crews may remain with their aircraft overnight in the country.

2. Changes with respect to foreign aircraft ops to Cuba

As of July 22 foreign-registered aircraft are now permitted to fly directly from the U.S. to Cuba. To do this, however, the aircraft must depart from one of 19 designated airports in the U.S. (see next section for the list of airports). Please note that trip support providers with a presence in the U.S. are still not permitted to handle foreign-registered operations to Cuba, as these aircraft are not U.S.-registered and are considered unlicensed since they are unable to obtain appropriate OFAC or BIS licenses.

3. Designated U.S. airports

Under current regulations, all GA aircraft – private non-revenue and charter – operating between the U.S. and Cuba must depart from/return to one of the following 19 airports. There’s no requirement, however, to leave/return to the same airport.

4. Relaxation in items that may be brought back from Cuba

As of January 16, 2015, per-diem limits on authorized travelers have been lifted. Moreover, importation of personal goods from Cuba into the U.S., which include up to 400 USD in value per passenger and up to 100 USD in alcohol and tobacco products, has been authorized.

5. Banking and credit changes

As of January 16, 2015, U.S. banks have been able to open corresponding accounts in Cuba. OFAC’s new regulations authorize U.S. banks to process payments related to authorized transactions in Cuba, as well as use of U.S. credit/debit cards for authorized travel to Cuba. This has made it easier for authorized payments to occur. However, many U.S. banks remain cautious with allowing credit to be used in Cuba. It’s recommended to exchange currency upon arrival or to use your ATM card while there. Note that the ATM withdraws are a manual process in Cuba, where you present your card, and an attendant provides local currency. The safest place to exchange currency is at the airport or in your hotel. Be aware that, there are limits on the amount of currency that may be brought into Cuba; therefore, it’s best to review these requirements in advance.

6. Ground handling options

Ground handing and aircraft support services are available at airports of entry (AOE) in Cuba. Availability of ground support equipment (GSE), including tow bars for certain aircraft types, is reportedly reasonable at Havana (MUHA). Be aware that when you make your Cuban landing permit request, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will tell you which ground handler you’ve been assigned to. Operators have the option to arrange for a supervisory ground handing agent to oversee local handling; however, this must be set up in advance. Be sure to check the licensing your supervisory agent has, as only some of these personnel are authorized to oversee air-side ramp operations/services.

7. CIQ and handling

When operating to MUHA, customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ) can be cleared at any of the four airport terminals (terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5). Terminal 5 is the GA and domestic flight terminal. In order to secure a Cuban landing permit, operators must provide local business contact information to the CAA. CAA will communicate with the contact and then assign you a terminal to operate to at MUHA (Terminal 5 is the preferred terminal) and will advise which ground handler will take care of your flight. Note that the terminal you operate to and the assigned local handler are determined by CAA, based on their own internal processes.

8. AOG considerations

If you have a mechanical breakdown while in Cuba, you may bring in certain spare parts. If the part in question is considered "technology" equipment – such as navigation and avionics hardware – you may still need a Temporary Sojourn license to have the part shipped to Cuba. Hiring aviation maintenance technicians from the U.S. to service your aircraft in Cuba is something operators are advised to confirm with OFAC, as they can provide more clarity on such requirements.

9. Cuba travel considerations

When planning travel to Cuba with U.S.-registered aircraft and/or U.S. citizens (U.S. nationals or Foreign Nationals with U.S. Green cards), it’s important to ensure you’re traveling for authorized reasons and that applicable general license requirements are met in compliance with OFAC and BIS regulations. Ensure that your aircraft does not remain in Cuba for more than one night. If passengers are staying more than one night, you’ll need to reposition and return to pick them up. It’s also important to be sure all required passenger visas are obtained. Visas may be sourced in advance from the Cuban Assets Control Regulations office in Florida, or you may obtain them upon arrival in Cuba. If obtained on arrival, the visa cost is about 30 USD, and the process takes less than an hour. Note that, U.S. flight crews (U.S. nationals or Foreign Nationals with U.S. Green cards), do not require visas for travel to Cuba.

10. Domestic travel

Travel to one intra-Cuba leg is permitted under the new regulation; however, it must be an airport of entry (AOE). An example of such a leg is Miami Intl (KMIA)-MUHA-Varadero (MUVR)-KMIA. Note that travel to a ‘domestic only’ airport is not permitted, as you will need to leave the country to the U.S. from that airport, and that would not be possible as outbound customs and immigration is required.

11. Regulatory ambiguity

For GA operators planning trips to Cuba, there’s still ambiguity in terms of how the regulations and recent regulatory change are written. For example, U.S.-registered aircraft are permitted to remain overnight in Cuba, but there’s no specific published authorization for air crew to remain overnight with their aircraft. In addition, regulations state that U.S.-registered operators must depart/return to one of 19 airports in the U.S.; however, nothing has been published on the ability of U.S.-registered aircraft to operate directly to Cuba from a third country or depart Cuba to a third country.

12. Additional information

While OFAC and BIS requirements have eased somewhat with regard to GA travel to Cuba, all of these requirements should be reviewed with your legal department. This helps ensure that regulations and recent regulatory changes, are interpreted correctly. More information on Cuban travel requirements for U.S.-registered aircraft can be found at FAA, Department of Commerce and Department of Treasury websites. For more on what the Department of Commerce issued in July see the Federal Register Vol. 80, No. 140.


Cuba is still a long way from being a wide open environment for GA operators. While we anticipate regulatory requirements and operating hurdles to relax over time, the process will be slow. For operations traveling to Cuba in the near term, it’s important to understand that regulations and restrictions remain in flux. Each GA trip to Cuba is different, and this will impact what is and what is not possible to accomplish. For any planned trip to Cuba, it’s important to review all applicable regulations and obtain appropriate legal advice in order to maintain regulatory compliance.

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 assistance planning your next trip to Cuba, contact me at keithforeman@univ-wea.com.

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