House panel will consider bill to halt Cuba flights next week


The House Homeland Security Committee will consider legislation next week that would halt commercial flights to Cuba until a thorough security review is conducted at the country’s 10 airports.

{mosads}Next Tuesday’s markup will come nearly two weeks after scheduled air service between the U.S. and Cuba resumed for the first time in 50 years. The commercial flights are a cornerstone of President’s Obama efforts to restore relations with the former Cold War rival.

The measure, backed by Transportation Security Subcommittee Chairman John Katko (R-N.Y.), would pause those flights until the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) completes a report assessing Cuba’s airport security measures and secures an agreement that allows TSA agents to inspect the island nation’s airports.

Bill sponsors are pushing the legislation because they’re concerned Cuban airport security is not up to snuff. They want to know whether the country has adequate body scanners, explosive detection systems, technology for detecting fake passports and a strong employee vetting process.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a staunch opponent of normalizing relations with Cuba, unveiled companion legislation earlier this week.

“It’s extremely concerning that ‎airlines operating in Cuba are not allowed to hire their own workers, and airport staff are employees of the Cuban government,” Rubio said in a statement. “This increases the likelihood that someone on the inside seeking to harm the United States could gain access to sensitive flight data and controls.”

But supporters of Cuban air travel argue that charter services have been offering flights between the U.S. and Cuba for years without terrorism incidents and point out that Cuban airports already must comply with a set of international standards.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee, said it’s problematic for the U.S. to require different standards for Cuban airports in the legislation.

“I wouldn’t want to start singling out airports because of the politics of the country,” Thompson told The Hill on Thursday. “Because then all the sudden we’ve got a hodgepodge of standards that, at the end of day, don’t make us any safer.” 

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