IATA does not foresee more US carriers pulling out of Cuba and says the airlines now serving are the “right players” for the market.

When US-Cuba air service was restored in 2016, US airlines rushed into a market for which they had little accurate data and threw too much capacity into the market, IATA regional VP-the Americas Peter Cerda said during a media briefing in Geneva Dec. 5.

“There were too many flights to secondary cities,” Cerda said. “Havana demand remains strong.”

But the US Trump administration earlier this year made travel to the country less easy for Americans by forbidding “people-to-people” individual trips, and this has had a material effect on the market.

Frontier, Silver Airways, Spirit Airlines and, most recently, Alaska Airlines have pulled out of the Cuba market. JetBlue Airways, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines remain in the market, but have either dropped flights to secondary cities or reduced capacity to Cuba.

The airlines that remain are better able to serve the market than the ones that exited, Cerda noted. “They have the right hubs [in the US] to be more efficient, and I don’t foresee any further airlines pulling out” he said. “Havana will be the main focus from now on.”

Despite these developments, Cuba is a “bright spot” for IATA in the Latin America and Caribbean region, Cerda said. “When you take the US flights out of the equation, there is tremendous demand for flights to Cuba from Europe and elsewhere in Latin America,” Cerda said. He added that demand from the Middle East and Asia also was growing, evidenced by Air China and Turkish Airlines adding service to the island.

Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport is becoming constrained, potentially affecting future air travel growth. “We are working with the government on how they can improve the airport,” Cerda said. “Havana has reached a saturation point.”

 Madhu Unnikrishnan/Aviation Daily madhu.unnikrishnan@aviationweek.com