KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — The first commercial passenger flight from Key West to Cuba in more than 50 years landed Monday in Havana, capping several years of efforts to reunite the two islands, though regular air service still appeared a distant prospect.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection gave the final approval for the flight Monday morning, and the nine-passenger aircraft departed 90 minutes later at 10 a.m., Key West International Airport director Peter Horton said.
"This is just a test run," Horton said. "Whether this is going to come and be a regular service I don't believe has been determined yet."
Federal officials granted Key West the green light to resume flights to and from the island country in October 2011. It took more than two years, however, for the first flight to take off. Charter operators said they had trouble getting all of the required approvals from U.S. and Cuban authorities. They have also struggled with capacity issues: Key West is currently only approved to process 10 passengers and crew from Cuba at a time.
Cuba and Key West have a long and interwoven history. Before the 1959 revolution, there was regular flight and ferry service to the island. Residents could fly to Havana for lunch and be back in Key West in time for dinner.
The Cessna Conquest II aircraft departed the Florida island Monday carrying nine passengers, five of which planned to participate in a licensed "people-to-people" trip focusing on Cuba's culture and environment organized by the Florida Keys Tropical Research Ecological Exchange Institute.