This article was written by James Kim, Group Managing Director at AvCon Worldwide (Holdings). The opinion of the authors does not necessarily correspond with that of the editorial team. Want your opinion to be featured on AeroTime? Send us a line at [email protected].

News from Cuba hit the headlines all around the world on May 18, 2018. Sadly, it was news of an aircraft crash in which 110 passengers died. The plane was a 39 years old B737-200 operated by a Mexican carrier, Aerolineas Damojh. The aircraft was wet-leased and operated by Cubana de Aviacion (hereinafter called Cubana). The Mexican carrier is also known as Global Air.

The U.S.-Cuba relations have improved since Obama administration eased sanctions on Cuba. Sanctions still exist, the same way they remained after the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

However, aviation sanctions on Cuba are a lot lighter than those imposed on Iran and North Korea. They are based on the Torricelli Act, better known as the Cuban Democracy Act. It was a bill presented by the U.S. Congressman Robert Torricelli and passed in 1992. The following conditions are applied under the Torricelli Act:

  • Aircraft should not be owned by a Cuban company.
  • Aircraft operational control should not be Cuban - This means captains should be non-Cuban.This rule does not apply to first officers.
  • Aircraft maintenance control cannot be Cuban - the Main engineer in charge should be non-Cuban. Assisting labour, however, can be Cuban engineers.
  • Aircraft spare parts should not be stored in Cuba, warehouses should not be owned by Cuban.

These rules allow wet lease (ACMI). For instance, AOM (Air Outre-Mer) French Airlines operated DC10-30's on Paris-Havana routes. TransAer International Airlines of Ireland, Avion Express of Lithuania, TACA International Airlines of El Salvador also provided wet lease services for Cubana with several A320s. Novair of Sweden leased some A330-200s. EuroAtlantic of Portugal provided B767-300ER.

It is recommended for Cubana to bring in younger aircraft under ACMI to replace extremely old aircraft like the B737-200 which caused the fatal accident. I have always said that safety of the aircraft depends on the level of maintenance, not the age. A 39 years old B737-200 is extremely old for commercial passenger services. It may be difficult to find second-hand parts for B737-200 as nearly all of B737-200 are decommissioned and parted out.

Despite the wet lease operator being a Mexican carrier, this accident damaged the reputation of Cubana and Cuba itself. I was in Cuba in 1992 and 1993 for the meetings with Instituto Aeronautica Civil de Cuba (IACC), and I know the situation very well, along with the Torricelli Act which impacted on the Cuban civil aviation.

Cubana should seek younger aircraft when looking for wet-leased aircraft. Since the cost of wet lease jet aircraft may be high, domestic fares may become unaffordable for Cuban people, so it would be wise to deploy ATRs of AeroGaviota for domestic routes under codeshare with Cubana, while available jets should be operated on main trunk routes such as Havana-Santiago de Cuba.

Personally, I am against sanctions on the aviation sector as it will impact the lives of people in the countries involved. The U.S. may set aircraft age limit to avoid the latest aircraft being operated by sanctioned countries if the U.S. is concerned that certain technology may benefit local military. For example, they can set a rule that the minimum aircraft age for operations by sanctioned countries should be 10 or 15 years. It is sad to see civilians, flight crews and foreign tourists becoming victims of sanctions on aviation.

Note: the text has been edited by AeroTime team. Read the original version here.