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Tampa International Airport adds third Cuba carrier

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Published:   |   Updated: October 15, 2013 at 06:41 AM

TAMPA — Tampa International Airport will gain a third service providing charter flights to Cuba by year’s end, the president of California-based Cuba Travel Services Inc. said Monday, likely enhancing competition on roundtrip air fares that currently average $400 between Tampa and Havana.

CTS flies between Miami and four airports in Cuba using American Airlines and Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737-800 jet aircraft.

CTS has received permission for the Tampa-Cuba flights from the Cuban government, but its filing with the U.S. Department of Transportation is being held back because of the U.S. government shutdown, CTS president Michael Zuccato said.

“We can’t advertise or sell tickets until we get DOT approval,” said Zuccato, who added he needed to be cautious about releasing details of destinations and schedules until that occurs. “ As soon as we hear, we will make a formal announcement.”

Zuccato said his company set up an office in Tampa in 2004 with hopes the Bush administration would add Tampa to the three U.S. airports then permitted to fly Cuba charters. After six months without hearing about its proposal, CTS pulled out of Tampa.

“Tampa has always been a market we’ve been interested in pursuing,” he said. “It’s a good market, not just for Cuban-Americans (permitted to visit Cuba under U.S. regulations) but for groups under the People-To-People program.”

That program allows certain U.S. groups such as those doing studies in Cuba to travel despite the long-standing, strict U.S. regulations that prohibit the general public from Cuba visits.

The new service will launch during a period when the two Cuba charter providers at Tampa International are increasing service to Havana and launching new Cuba destinations.

But it won’t be known for some time whether three carriers will create excess competition similar to what forced XAEL Charters Inc. to discontinue its Tampa-Havana flights and relocate to Fort Lauderdale in February.

“The Tampa-Cuba market is currently at a saturation point and adding 450 new seats (a week) is simply going to overflow the market and flood the market with excess seats at the existing level of demand,” said Bill Hauf, president of Tampa-based Island Travel & Tours.

“I hope it encourages better service,” said Tessie Aral, president of Miami-based ABC Charters.

“I believe competition is always a good thing and in the end brings stronger, better, improved service to the public,” Zuccato said.

tjackovics@tampatrib.com

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