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HAVANA/WASHINGTON, Sept 28 (Reuters) - JetBlue Airways Corp will add a second charter flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy airport to Havana, expanding charter service ahead of an expected opening of commercial air travel between the two countries, the company said on Monday.
The new round-trip, non-stop flight will operate every Tuesday starting Dec. 1 in partnership with Cuba Travel Services, a travel provider licensed by the U.S. government to arrange flights to Cuba.
“In my email inbox, I have more interest from customers for service to Cuba than for any other place,” JetBlue’s Chief Executive, Robin Hayes, said in an interview on the sidelines of an airline summit in Washington.
Hayes declined to say whether JetBlue would serve cities outside of Havana, but said it took interest in “Cuba, the country.”
JetBlue and Cuba Travel Services currently operate one of two other JFK-to-Havana charter flights. Several other charter flights take passengers to Cuba from Florida.
Under new rules initiated by Washington in January, a month after U.S. President Barack Obama announced detente with the former Cold War adversary, U.S. airlines are permitted to fly to Cuba without the need for special permission from the Treasury Department.
However, U.S. and Cuban officials first need to negotiate a new civil aviation arrangement before customers can book travel directly with airlines instead of through charter companies.
Representatives of both countries were holding aviation talks on Monday and Tuesday in Havana.
Normal airline service was interrupted by the U.S. trade embargo imposed on Cuba in 1962.
General U.S. tourism to Cuba is still banned but Cuban-Americans and certain U.S. citizens are allowed to go on specially sanctioned travel, which has been further relaxed by Obama, creating a larger market for U.S. travel to the Communist-governed island.
The market is expected to grow further if the United States lifts either the tourism ban or the embargo. Legislation proposing both is pending in the U.S. Congress. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta in Havana and Jeffrey Dastin in Washington; Editing by Frances Kerry; editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)