House Committee Advances Bill to Halt Cuba Flights

From The Hill

A House panel advanced legislation on Tuesday that would halt commercial flights to Cuba until a thorough security review is conducted at the country’s 10 airports, fueling an ongoing debate about whether the U.S. should have resumed air service with the island nation.

By voice vote, the House Homeland Security Committee backed an amended bill from Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Transportation Security Subcommittee, to pause Cuba flights until lawmakers receive assurances that the country’s airport security procedures are up to snuff.
The markup comes 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 Obama’s efforts to restore relations with the former Cold War rival.

Katko’s measure would require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to complete a report assessing Cuba’s airport security protocols and secure an agreement that gives TSA agents access to the country’s airports.

Lawmakers adopted, 14-10, a substitute amendment that would also require all air carrier contracts with the Cuban government to be made public.

The underlying legislation requires an agreement permitting federal air marshals on flights to and from Cuba, though the TSA said it already reached such an agreement this summer. 

Bill sponsors still want to know whether the country has adequate body scanners, explosive detection systems, technology for detecting fake passports and a strong employee vetting process.

A group of committee members said they wanted to travel to Cuba themselves and investigate some of these concerns, but were denied travel visas.

“We know that this sector is still under threat from terrorists,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the full panel. “I want to make sure that this committee is doing everything in its power to ensure the security of America on these flights.”