Florida Keys News
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Travel agency wants to "do it right"

A plan for the first commercial flight between Key West and Cuba in more than 50 years has been delayed at least one month.

Mambi International Group of Miami proposed to offer a flight between Key West International Airport and Havana on Nov. 15, and issued a press release marketing the historic flight.

But in doing so, it may have violated a federal Department of Transportation regulation that requires the company to have what is known as a "380 certificate," said Bob Curtis, the pilot who was coordinating the flight to Cuba.

The first commercial flight has been postponed at least a month, said Curtis, who operates Air Maribrisas Airlines, the company that partnered with Mambi International on the commercial air service.

Curtis has now tentatively scheduled Dec. 15 as a possible date for the flight.

"The entity responsible for providing passengers (Mambi International) not knowingly held themselves out to the public by issuing press releases about the flight and not having a DOT (Department of Transportation) 380 certificate," Curtis wrote in an email sent Wednesday to Monroe County Airports Director Peter Horton. "If we performed the service we would be in violation of 380 and I won't do that, therefore I have terminated any service for 30 days. ... Everything else remains the same, all our licenses and approvals are in place, we are delaying the service for 30 days so that when we do perform we are performing in accordance with all regulations."

Commercial air service effectively stopped between Key West in the early 1960s after the United States government banned travel to Cuba because of the strained relationship between the two countries under Fidel Castro's administration. Prior to Castro taking power, Key West and Havana residents frequently traveled between the two cities.

Mambi executives planned to fly nine passengers on a small commuter plane between Key West International Airport and Havana on Nov. 15, Mambi sales executive Issac Valdes said.

The group planned to offer the flight three days a week -- Monday, Wednesday and Friday -- at cost of between $449 and $469 round trip, Valdes said. Mambi also planned to open a travel agency on White Street.

tohara@keysnews.com

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