The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced it will suspend the authority granted to all public charter operators to serve any airport in Cuba other than Havana Int'l and impose a cap on the number of flights to the Cuban capital.

The DOT said it was taking the step at the request of the Department of State. In a letter to the Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, wrote that the ban is meant "to strengthen the impact of the Administration's policy of applying economic pressure on the Cuban regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all in Cuba," in particular in retaliation for Cuba's support for the regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

The ban on public charters to airports other than Havana will enter into force 60 days after the publication of the order, i.e. on March 10, 2020.

The DOT said it will explain the procedures regarding the capped number of flights into Havana in a separate show-cause order, which has yet to be issued.

"We find, pursuant to the Department of State's request, that an appropriate level for the cap would be a level corresponding to current levels of service, based on public charter prospectuses accepted for calendar year 2019. For calendar year 2019, the Department accepted public charter prospectuses with Havana proposals totalling approximately 3,600 round-trip flights. Accordingly, the Department will limit the number of authorized public charter flights at Havana to that level for the initial charter year," the DOT said.

The DOT added that while it will honour the existing rights for 2020, it does not "anticipate accepting any new prospectuses, or new amended prospectuses, for additional public charter flights".

On December 10, 2019, the US government banned scheduled flights from the US to any cities other than Havana. According to the ch-aviation capacities module, US airlines currently offer 140 weekly scheduled flights between the Cuban capital and the US. They are operated by American Airlines (the largest operator with a 35.3% market share by capacity), JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines. iAero Airways and Miami Air International are the leading charter operators between the US and Cuba.

Scheduled flights between Cuba and the US resumed in 2016 during a thaw in relations between the two countries under the administration of President Barack Obama. Since taking power, President Donald Trump has taken a markedly tougher stance against the Communist-run island.