Two years after President Donald Trump first announced his intent to reverse Obama-era changes easing restrictions on travel to Cuba, a final rule effective June 5 closed the door for most of general aviation.
The Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security published the final rule on June 5 implementing additional restrictions on travel and commerce with Cuba, further limiting options allowed under the previous administration. The Federal Register notice notes that the latest restrictions were ordered in April.
“On April 17, 2019, the White House announced that the Administration is holding the Cuban regime accountable for repressing the Cuban people and supporting the Maduro regime in Venezuela through multiple actions, including by restricting non-family travel to Cuba, or in other words, ‘veiled tourism,’” the agency wrote. “Consequently, BIS is amending License Exception Aircraft, Vessels and Spacecraft (AVS) in § 740.15 of the EAR and the licensing policy for Cuba in § 746.2 to generally prohibit non-commercial aircraft from flying to Cuba and passenger and recreational vessels from sailing to Cuba.”
The administration has been working since 2017 to close doors opened during the Obama administration, when a softening of Cuba policy beginning in 2015 led to lifting decades-old travel restrictions and made the island nation 90 miles from Key West, Florida, a potential travel destination for U.S. pilots. Cuba was a popular general aviation destination decades before, but the revolution that installed a communist government in the early 1960s led to federal sanctions including limits on travel.
The new rule published June 5 allows few exemptions, though persons with travel arrangements already made (including advance purchase of accommodations or travel) may complete their trips, and air ambulances will also be allowed to continue operation. Travel to Cuba by private aircraft, vessels, and spacecraft (AVS) is no longer permitted.
“The only civil aircraft of U.S. registry that remain eligible for License Exception AVS when destined for Cuba are commercial aircraft operating under Air Carrier Operating Certificates or certain other Federal Aviation Administration certificates or specifications identified in paragraph (a)(2)(i),” the published rule states. “Making non-commercial aircraft ineligible for License Exception AVS when destined for Cuba supports the President's policy to restrict non-family travel to Cuba.”
AOPA is working to update online guidance for pilots to reflect the policy and rule changes.
Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.