Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry went to Cuba to raise the flag above the U.S. Embassy for the first time in 54 years -- does this mean general aviation pilots will soon be able to fly their private planes there? No, it doesn't, says Craig Spence, AOPA's vice president for international affairs. "There's a great deal of interest among U.S. pilots to fly to Cuba," he said, "and there are changes underway that eventually will make that possible. But our best advice is, hold off for right now." The embargo is still in effect, and travel for tourism is still strictly prohibited, he said, and while that will certainly change at some point, there's no definite timeline that pilots can plan on.
With the rules in flux, a plethora of U.S. and Cuban agencies and commissions and even Congress will have to weigh in to establish new procedures. Spence said it is going to take some time to work things out, and "there are going to be a lot of bugs and problems." Another issue is that the general aviation infrastructure in Cuba is not really ready for an influx of U.S. airplanes. "You might be able to find avgas," Spence said, "but you might not be able to find parts and a mechanic if you need one. And access to the Internet for flight planning, and all the other logistics … it's going to take some time." He couldn't put a timeline on that process.
Air Journey CEO Thierry Pouille, who organizes fly-yourself trips abroad for GA pilots, agreed that Cuba is not ready for GA. "Things will definitely be changing," now that diplomatic relations are re-established, he said. "And Cuba is eager to welcome GA. But there's no timeline." Pouille said a "couple of years" might be a good guess. AOPA is tracking the Cuba developments at its Caribbean Flight Planning web page.