01/12/13 - Sentinel - Lauderdale may resume Cuba charter flights Sun
Fort Lauderdale may soon offer scheduled charter flight service to
Just weeks after one charter operator ceased service, another is looking
to take its place - possibly as soon as next month, airport officials
confirmed on Friday.
Miami-based Xael Charters told Tampa authorities this week that they
are ending service in Tampa in mid-February and plan to start weekly
flights from Fort Lauderdale instead. Fort Lauderdale authorities said a
charter company has expressed interest in Cuba service but did not
disclose further information.
The shift comes after Coral Gables-based Airline Brokers Co. ended Cuba
service from Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 25. Havana had suspended Airline
Brokers' landing rights after a broader evaluation of U.S. flight services
to Cuba, according to the company's web site and its president Vivian
Charter executives say the changes follow smaller-than-expected demand for
U.S.-Cuba flights after the Obama administration in 2009 allowed
Cuban-Americans unlimited travel to the island, and in 2011, authorized
more U.S. airports to offer Cuba charters. Too many companies entered the
charter market and then waged a price war for limited passengers, leaving
most operations unprofitable.
"The charter market is a challenge. It is very difficult," said Bill Hauf,
president of Island Travel & Tours, which offers two flights a week from
Tampa to Cuba but has delayed startup of Baltimore-to-Cuba service because
of insufficient demand.
Cuba service planned from Atlanta, New York, Dallas and San Juan in Puerto
Rico also has been delayed or, in some cases, halted for financial
reasons. In November, Havana also suspended the landing rights for
Miami-based C&T Charters, reportedly for delays in payment amid the price
Indeed, it remains unclear if Xael will be able to profit on weekly
service from Fort Lauderdale.
Both Hauf and Mannerud have said it's better to offer two flights a week
to Cuba from any single airport, because many passengers like to go for
three to four days. Once-a-week service means that passengers will need to
fly one part of their trip on a different carrier - a move that costs the
charter company issuing the ticket as much as $135 per passenger in fees,
in some cases.
Xael was not available for comment as of Friday afternoon.
Tampa International Airport handled about 40,000 passengers to Cuba in
2012, its first full year offering charter service to the island, said
spokeswoman Janet Zink. At its peak, Tampa offered five flights a week to
Cuba - more than the three flights a week offered from Fort Lauderdale
Miami International Airport continues to dominate the limited charter
business. It handled 335,000 passengers to Cuba in 2011, up 5 percent from
2010, according to the latest available full-year data.
The five-decade-old U.S. embargo on Cuba restricts most U.S. business with
communist-led Cuba, including Americans' spending U.S. dollars on the
island in most cases. Americans can visit Cuba and spend there in select
cases such as educational, religious and "people-to-people" tours, but
U.S. Treasury officials have been cautious about granting licenses,
disappointing many charter operators.
1. Fort Lauderdale
2. Havana (Cuba)
4. Coral Gables
6. Miami International Airport
Original Source / Fuente Original:
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