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JetBlue, Delta flights from JFK to Havana clear key hurdle

JetBlue flights are seen at Kennedy Airport on

JetBlue flights are seen at Kennedy Airport on Jan. 15, 2016. Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Burton

JetBlue Airways and Delta Air Lines have won tentative approval to operate once-daily scheduled flights from Kennedy Airport to Havana, the capital of Cuba, federal officials said Thursday.

Each of those airlines also won tentative rights to make daily trips to Havana from two other U.S. cities, the U.S. Department of Transportation said.

United Airlines was tentatively awarded once-daily flights from Newark Liberty, and once weekly from Houston to Havana.

Those were the only awards for flights serving New York-area airports. Scheduled passenger flights to Cuba were halted more than 50 years ago during the Cuban missile crisis.

A dozen airlines applied for nearly 60 flights per day, and those were whittled to 20 by Thursday’s announcement, which noted that the agreement between the United States and Cuba earlier this year allowed only 20 daily flights to the Cuban capital.

JetBlue also won tentative rights to twice-daily flights from Fort Lauderdale to Havana, and American Airlines was tentatively awarded four daily flights from Miami to Havana.

The Department of Transportation said in announcing its decision that it was making the awards to areas with a significant Cuban-American population and with aviation hubs.

Six airlines were given permission in June for 90 daily flights from five U.S. airports — none in the New York area — to nine Cuban airports, but not Havana, which is Cuba’s capital and largest city.

The DOT action stems from President Barack Obama’s trip to the island nation earlier this year and his attempt to normalize relations.

There are currently several charter flights daily between the United States and Cuba, including JetBlue, which operates charter service twice weekly from its terminal at Kennedy Airport

DOT said it would make its final decision later this summer after receiving any objections.

DOT released the news in the morning, just before a Capitol Hill oversight hearing on the Transportation Security Administration.

U.S. Rep. John Katko, a Republican from upstate Camillus, told TSA officials at the witness table he had just been handed an email about the news, and questioned whether security would be adequate at the Cuban airports.

He said he was concerned that Cuba might become “a new gateway to the United States” for those who might want to harm America.

Katko did not press TSA officials for an answer and asked them to convey his concern “to the appropriate people” at the agency.

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