American pilots make historic journey to Cuba

Posted: 28-Oct-15 10:19

A group of American pilots has become the first to travel to Cuba and spend more than a day on the island in nearly 50 years.

American pilots make historic journey to Cuba

A small group of American planes has become the first to land at a Cuban airport in nearly 50 years.

The trip was organised by a pilot working with the US Consulate on the island, and it was he who negotiated for Ron Fairfax and nine other pilots to land their private aircraft on Cuban soil for the first time since the trade embargo was announced in 1959.

There had, technically, always been a way for American planes to enter Cuban airspace, but it required satisfying so much governmental red tape that it became almost impossible, as Fairfax explained:

"To go there for more than 24 hours, you have to export your plane and re-export your plane back through the United States Bureau of Industrial Standards. You have to have all of the paperwork and a license to do that."

Licences weren't made available until December 2014, when Barack Obama overturned the ruling of the Bush administration to lift flight restrictions to the island. Fairfax's expedition was the first to make such a lengthy trip in a number of years.

There were teething problems: the group's first destination - the airport at Cienfuegos (CFG) - didn't know how to accommodate ten aircraft as they were used to receiving just one commercial plane at a time. Nevertheless, Fairfax said that he and his colleagues were treated warmly on landing. He explained:

"They were really receptive. Matter of fact, they brought us into this VIP room and gave us mojitos while we were waiting for everybody to arrive. There were no problems going through customs or immigration or anything like that."

From Cienfuegos they moved on to Havana, where they were given a tour of the aviation control room that monitors all flights to and from the island. Fairfax said he and his touring party were free to take photos as they liked, and didn't experience any hostility from natives or the police.

And despite the state of disrepair that tarnishes many of the buildings on the island, there were still treasures to be found.

"We ate in one place where the downstairs was demolished with piles of concrete. You go up these chipped marble steps with a rail that has nearly fallen off, and there is this gorgeous restaurant with lobster for dinner and a modern kitchen and spiral staircase leading to an upstairs bar. Otherwise, it looked like a bombed-out building."

Commented Fairfax with a broad smile. Talking about famous Havana paladar, La Guarida.


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