The United States and Cuba could soon restore regular commercial airline flights, reported the Associated Press Thursday. Cuba's top negotiator said the deal was on the verge of being reached, buoying hopes of boosting economic relations following a year of diplomatic progress.
The negotiation teams "have made important advances in negotiating a memorandum of understanding on establishing regular flights between Cuba and the United States, and shortly, they will be ready to announce a preliminary agreement on this issue," Josefina Vidal, head of North American affairs for Cuba's foreign ministry, said to reporters in Havana.
The deal has been in the works throughout long-running talks in Washington and would allow for U.S. airlines to negotiate with the Cuban government for routes to the island. State Department spokeswoman Kerry Humphrey said that the countries "are making progress but still negotiating," according to the AP.
The BBC reported that the deal was "imminent," citing unnamed Cuban sources, but noted that airline negotiations could take months. CNN reported the deal had been finished as well with an official announcement expected Thursday, citing an unnamed U.S. official.
A deal would likely bring thousands of visitors to the island and would be the biggest economic development since the two Cold War foes began normalizing relations last year. U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro ended last year more than 50 years of official hostility between the nations. The countries have since reopened embassies in Havana and Washington and reached agreements in areas like mail delivery and environmental protections.
"On the political and diplomatic plane, and in bilateral cooperation, we've seen important progress," Vidal said, according to the AP. "In contrast, I have to say that in the area of economy and commerce the results are barely visible."
Travel between the two nations has already surged by some 50 percent, the BBC reported. But travelers currently have to book charter flights or plan travel through a third country. A deal could reportedly mean more than a dozen flights landing in Cuba from the U.S. per day.