These boys show a sign marking the site of Pan Am's first flight ever, from Key West to Cuba back in 1928. It apparently was at Caroline and Whitehead streets. Island-to-island air service is returning, although in limited fashion.
Now that the federal government is allowing direct Key West-Cuba flights, the ball is in the hands of the aviation industry to start running flights from the Southernmost City 90 miles south to the island nation.
The permission came by way of a Tuesday letter to Monroe County Airports Director Peter Horton from Thomas Winkowski, assistant commissioner in U.S. Custom and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations.
He wrote: "I am pleased to inform you that Key West International Airport has met the criteria ... and has been approved to offer passenger air service to and from Cuba. However, in view of the limitations of [the airport], aircraft may travel with no more than 10 passengers per flight."
"Now it's up to the industry to step up and say, 'OK, we want to provide the aircraft to make that happen,'" Horton said.
He has already reached out to four carriers, most notably Miami-based CT Charters, which already possesses licenses from both the U.S. and Cuban governments to make the trip.
"They're researching how they're going to make this work now that we have the designation," Horton said.
"I think people should be excited," he continued, "but they need to understand that Cuba is not open. This is just the first step."
The new permission doesn't mean anyone can just step up to an airline counter and buy a ticket to go to Cuba.
Rather, the Office of Foreign Assets Control in the U.S. Department of the Treasury regulates travel to Cuba. Would-be visitors must obtain either a general or specific license to make the trip; applicable rules were last amended in April.
A general license gives "blanket authorization" for the holder to engage in travel to Cuba for broad activities: Visiting "close relatives" who are either Cuban nationals or Americans working in Cuba for the U.S. government; official business; journalistic, educational or religious activities; professional research; and "commercial marketing, sales negotiation, accompanied delivery or servicing in Cuba" of telecommunications-related items, agricultural commodities, medicine or medical devices.
A specific license is considered when the nature of the travel isn't covered by a general license. They include visiting close relatives who aren't nationals or government employees, freelance journalism, educational exchanges, academic seminars or conferences, athletic competitions, participation in a public performance, supporting the Cuban people, and humanitarian projects and research.
Horton said the gears are in motion to increase the 10-passenger cap for flights. Although he wouldn't go into details of the security requirements, he outlined a three-phase, two-year, $2.25 million project to have the airport reclassified as a federal inspection station, instead of the current label of a general aviation facility.
The first phase, costing around $250,000, will soon go out for bid, Horton said, adding that $1 million in further funding is in the works and additional money could come from grants, including those administered by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council for brick and mortar projects.
Horton said coordination with Customs on the Cuba point-of-entry designation began on July 21, 2009.