Friday, July 22, 2016
Billy Long: American lives at risk because of Cuban air safety situation
On February 16th of this year, American officials signed an accord with the Cuban government that will allow for more than 100 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and Cuba without adequate - if any - oversight from Congress. We have since discovered, the Cuban airport's infrastructure is far behind current national security standards and much due diligence must be done to ensure the safety of travelers before commercial flights resume.
Rep. John Katko, Chairman of the Transportation Security Subcommittee on the House Committee on Homeland Security, remarked earlier this year that attempts by the committee "to attain information about various aspects of the negotiations and requirements to begin regularly scheduled commercial service to Cuba have been stonewalled." Then, last month, he and other members of the committee were denied access to Cuba on their trip to survey US-Cuba airport security risks.
All the while, the administration has pushed on without answering traveler security questions and has opened a Department of Transportation application process for US air carriers to bid on these future commercial flights at all ten of Cuba's international airports. Furthermore, after more than 50 years of stalled diplomacy, the administration is now attempting to designate all of these airports as last points of departure (LPDs) to the US.
For perspective, only seven foreign countries have ten or more LPD airports to America. These nations include some of our closest allies or economic partners like Canada and the UK. On the surface, it seems as though deeming so many LPDs for a country with less than one-fifth of the UK’s population is a symptom of the White House's rushed plan for improved US-Cuba relations.
By the end of summer, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans to have already certified three LPD airports in Cuba, but have returned deeply concerning reports of the security situation there. TSA hasn't been able to obtain information on any standards of training for airport attendants and was unable to determine if airport workers had been checked for terrorist affiliations. They reported that Cuba's bomb sniffing dogs were inadequately trained, they possess no explosive trace detection equipment whatsoever, and the two full body scanners they have in Havana are the only ones on the entire island.
Historically, flights to and from Cuba have attracted terrorists and hijackers. In a time when foreign fighters and radicalized terrorists are growing in number and ambition, we shouldn't be rushing to open commercial air travel and new LPD airports with a system that practically welcomes those wishing to do America harm. On another note, we shouldn't trust Cuba in the first place, considering that their leaders undervalue Cuban citizens and reject the principles for which America stands.
Commercial air travel between our countries cannot be permitted to commence until due diligence is done to ensure Cuban airports are to code and that our citizens will be safe. I've cosponsored the "Cuba Airport Security Act of 2016," which will do that by effectively putting a pause on all commercial air travel between the US and Cuba until TSA certifies that Cuban airports have necessary security measures in place.
I have serious doubts that the Administration has fully analyzed the air safety situation with Cuba and will not stand by as American lives are risked. I believe that air travel with Cuba can be achieved in a safe way, but will continue to oppose any plan by this administration that puts optics over safety during that process.