FedEx to start operating new US - Cuba cargo routes between Miami and Varadero

Posted: 22-Jun-16 10:48

Cutting back on their initial plans to serve the Cuban capital of Havana, the logistics American giant, FedEx is now applying for the Miami-Varadero route using a turboprop plane for shipping their cargo between the two countries. Such a move could spell end of "mulas"; a Cuban term used to refer to U.S. based family members or individuals who make a living out of frequently flying to Cuba with chargeable excess baggage.

FedEx to start operating new US - Cuba cargo routes between Miami and Varadero

U.S. express delivery giant FedEx recently applied for a new cargo route linking Miami to Varadero with a requested date of 15th January 2017. The move comes hand in hand with the logistics company also dropping their initial bid to operate in the Cuban capital, an application they’ve now backed out of citing “the complexities of setting up operations in Cuba with ground and customs clearance capabilities”.

So, while Havana is clearly off the cards for the time being, there are other Cuban routes FedEx seems keen to exploit as soon as they receive the white flag from U.S. authorities. For now they’ve requested clearance to operate a five times weekly service between Miami and the famed beach resort town of Varadero in Cuba’s north-eastern province of Matanzas. Choosing Varadero as FedEx’s main base for its initial operations in Cuba, would, according to the notes provided in the company’s amended application, “be the more optimal use of its resources under current Cuba marketplace conditions”.

As part of its downsize bid the company also announced it would be using smaller aircraft and the cargo would be flying aboard a Cessna 208 plane, significantly smaller than the Boeing 757 initially envisaged for the Miami-Havana route. But while FedEx might be downsizing in cargo size by ruling out routes to the big capital for foreseeable future, it’s also seeking to expand beyond Varadero and call at other Cuban cities via land trucks connecting Varadero and Havana as well as the special development zone in Mariel and the far eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.

This decision comes in the midst of a fierce competition among big U.S. airlines fighting to obtain direct commercial routes to Havana. We recently reported how the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) had already approved direct routes to Cuba for six American airlines flying to secondary Cuban airports, yet the decision on which U.S. carriers would be offering commercial flights to the capital was still to be reached and would be revealed later in the summer. This delay is caused by the fact that the DOT received three times more requests for flying to Havana than the available 20 daily slots.

In the meantime, it seems that American tourists will be making it to the island in big numbers far sooner than U.S. cargo planes call at Varadero, as direct commercial flights between the two countries are due to resume this autumn. American Airlines announced this week that its first direct flights to Cuba would be taking off on 7th September calling at Cienfuegos and Holguin.

FedEx remains, for the time being, the only all-cargo applicant eager to start servicing Cuba with U.S.-Cuba scheduled air services. Delivery rival UPS confirmed last Friday that it hadn’t filed an application to start conducting business in Cuba yet, although it’s not ruling out the possibility of doing so in the near future. A statement release from the company read:

“UPS continues to assess the opportunity to provide services to and from Cuba. As trade lanes open and demand for delivery services increases, UPS will take appropriate action to meet the needs of our global customers...”

This latest move by FedEx, if given the green light by the requested date of 15th January next year could mean the end of “mulas”, a black market operated by individuals who frequently fly to Cuba from the U.S. bringing goods to the island sent by their Cuban families or business partners, and charging a fee for it that usually covers their travel costs plus a modest profit.

It’s the most common way for U.S. based Cubans to send remittances and gifts to their families in the island and the way most of Cuba’s booming new private business obtain goods and materials whose availability is poor or non-existent in the island.


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