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Flight from Key West to Cuba takes off for the first time in more than 50 years

A commercial Cuba flight has flown from Key West in the United States to Havana in Cuba for the first time since 1960. The nine-passenger Cessna Conquest II aircraft was a test run flight taking travellers on a people-to-people exchange programme organised by the Florida Keys Tropical Research Ecological Exchange Institute.

Flight from Key West to Cuba takes off for the first time in more than 50 years

A commercial passenger flight has flown from Key West in the United States to Cuba's capital Havana for the first time more than 50 years.

The nine-passenger Cessna Conquest II aircraft took off on a test run on 30th December, 2013 making it the first flight to Cuba from Key West in Florida since 1960.

Peter Horton, the director of Key West airport, explained:

"Whether this is going to be a regular service has not yet been determined,"

The new flights to Cuba were given the green light in October, 2011, after U.S President Barack Obama relaxed restrictions on Cuba travel for American residents. However, charter operators had to spend two years getting the required approvals from the U.S and Cuban authorities and Key West is only currently approved to carry up to 10 passengers and crew members at a time on flights to Cuba.

Of the nine passengers onboard the aircraft, five planned to enjoy their time in Cuba as part of the "people-to-people" programme that focuses on the island nation's culture and environment and was organised by the Florida Keys Tropical Research Ecological Exchange Institute. The trip will involve meet-ups with Cubans at the country's botanical gardens, organic farms and cultural centres.

"We're doing some really meaningful things there, working with botanical gardens, scientists, researchers, all the people there to help preserve their environment and ecology," stated Carolann Sharkey, the institute's trip organiser.

The Mayor of Key West, Craig Cates, was on the flight to Cuba last Monday but he did not venture beyond the airport terminal at Havana (HAV).

"We're 90 miles away from Cuba," said Cates. "We're closer to Cuba than Miami. We haven't had flights over there in 50 years. It's going to be great for the city of Key West - cultural exchange, historic exchange, to be able to go back and forth directly from Key West."

After the Obama administration relaxed restrictions for U.S travellers planning holidays to Cuba in 2011, the new laws have enabled more tourists to visit the communist country for the first time through organised tours and charters.

U.S travel companies that are licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control are now permitted to operate itineraries and activity programmes in Cuba for religious, educational, academic and cultural purposes.

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