Last updated: 01:22 PM ET, Wed June 29 2016

US Representatives Denied Visas To Inspect Cuba's Airport Security

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | June 29, 2016

US Representatives Denied Visas To Inspect Cuba's Airport Security

Photo by David Cogswell

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Michael McCaul, a representative from Texas, was supposed to lead a delegation to Cuba to inspect its airports security procedures and technology. However, the group was denied visas by the Cuban government. 

Thus far, the air travel industry in the United States has been focused on which of the limited number of slots for Cuba  (Havana, in particular) will be awarded to which airline. Now that all slots, except for the 20 for Havana, have been awarded, the focus turns to the other major question: how will Cuba respond to the commercial flights? 

Cuba denies visas to House members

If the denial of McCaul’s delegation is an example, things could be more complicated than expected. McCaul complained, “[T]he Cuban government is refusing to be open and transparent with the representatives of the people.” 

John Katko (NY), the chair of a subcommittee on transportation security, was slated to accompany McCaul to Cuba. He has been vocal about making sure Cuban airports are secure before flights to the U.S. are launched. "Our job is to look at last point of departure airports around the world, and they're not letting us do it. Some experts believe Cuba could become a gateway to the U.S. for terror suspects from Europe. But they're not even letting us take a look at their airports.” 

READ MORE: Can Cuba Keep Up With US Tourism?

Katko went even further, hearkening back to the days when Cuba was still considered an enemy. "This is a government that was only just removed as a state sponsor of terrorism one year ago, and it is not enough to rely on the Castro regime's word that these airports are safe."

The delegation wanted to visit airports around the country and also planned to visit the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay. 

The purpose of the tour was to see what kind of screening equipment and procedures were used at Cuban airports. The delegation also wanted to discuss whether or not Cuba would allow armed air marshals to be on the flights to and from the U.S. 

The other issue, which some in the airline and security industries think is the most important one, is whether or not Cuban immigration agents and airport security personnel would be able to distinguish between real and fraudulent travel documents and be able to accurately confirm a traveler’s identity. 

Both McCaul and Katko have criticized the Obama administration for pushing for flights without first investigating the security situation.

READ MORE: First US-Operated Hotel Opens in Cuba

TSA has inspected some of the country's airports

It is not true to say that Cuban airports have been completely closed off to American security experts. TSA and Homeland Security officials have been allowed to inspect some airports in the country. They have said that all the security areas were up to the minimum ICAO standard and had noticeably improved in recent times. 

What other issues could come up before flights take off for Cuba? 

U.S. airlines will want to hire personnel in Cuba and set up their operations in the most modern terminal at Havana’s Jose Marti International. This might not prove to be a major roadblock. Most of the airlines that will be flying to Cuba are already part of charter operations in the country. This presence should give them a head start when it comes to setting up operations for commercial flights. 

For its part, Cuba was obviously well aware of the negative stance of both McCaul and Katko. Perhaps they thought that the delegation was only planning to come to Cuba to find faults. The fact that TSA has been allowed into the country shows that Cuba is willing to offer some level of access, as long as it is away from the cameras and potential bad publicity.   

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