Cubana’s fleet: VIPs come first

Breakdowns and trips (official or personal) by Raúl Castro and Nicolas Maduro generate chaos at the national airline.

Cubana de Aviación has blamed its disastrous state (once again) to the US embargo. “There are no aviation supply companies in the world that dare to sell direct to Cuba,” the company’s director recently alleged.

As he said it, a Boeing 767  – one of the enemy’s great aeronautical flagships  – was flying between Havana and Buenos Aires, and other leased aircraft, by Embraer (Brazil) and Airbus (EU) were carrying out medium and long-distance operations. The US embargo, according to Castroism, is responsible for every evil affecting the Island, but the facts suggest otherwise.

Cubana: si no sale hoy, sale mañana

Dubbed “La Milagrosa,” Cubana de Aviación is the perfect synthesis illustrating the national debacle. True to the slogan popularized by its customers (“Cubana: if it doesn´t leave today, it’ll leave tomorrow”), on September 26 the company sent an email to the passengers of Flight CU-470, scheduled between Havana and Madrid, reporting to them a change of date “for operational reasons.”

Although they did not disclose these “reasons,” the day before Raúl Castro had taken an IL-96-300 aircraft out of circulation in order to travel to Cartagena de Indias and attend the signing of the agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government. The political act took place on precisely the 26th.

At almost the same time, another IL-96, registration CU-T1717, was grounded after suffering an incident on its way to Buenos Aires, according to sources familiar with the case. The aircraft, transferred from Aeroflot and 23 years old, was involved in its second serious incident, on the same route, both in 2016.

Cubana de Aviación has four Russian IL-96 aircraft operating. However, chaos constantly plagues the company due to the travel (official or personal) of Raúl Castro and Nicolás Maduro, and regular breakdowns. “The aircraft with registrations CU-T1254 and CU-T1251 have problems with their PS90 engines, despite being practically new,” DIARIO DE CUBA was informed by Julio Infante, the creator a popular Internet forum on Cuban aviation and a former employee of a European airline.

“The crown jewel”

For international travel, Raúl Castro uses the IL-96-300, with registration CU-T1250. According to the magazine Airways International, its first class section is only available when the dictator flies: “It is also the head of state’s aircraft. The front end of the Business Class section is off limits. The Mini Business area is the only section available (from what was First Class).”

In its original configuration, the “area of State” features 22 luxury seats, although there exist no photographs or video of it. There are another 18 for business class seating on commercial flights,termed “Tropical Class.”

The CU-T1250 regularly flies to Madrid Barajas and Paris Orly, but routes to Spain are those most often disrupted by the Bolivarian agenda.

In addition to the aforementioned cancellation on September 26, due to the trip to Colombia, Castro traveled to Santiago de Cuba on October 3 to “monitor” the preparations for Hurricane Matthew’s impending arrival.

Although the dictator does not usually use the IL-96-300 for his domestic travel, Cuban canceled flights to Madrid on 3 and 7 October. On the first day it transferred the travellers to hotels, sparking strong protest by a group of Spanish tourists. The flight took off 30 hours later on a A340, leased from the Spanish carrier Plus Ultra.

“Castro uses other smaller airplanes to fly around the Island. The problem with the IL-96 is the disastrous state of the fleet,” explains Luís Dominguez, a Cuban-American researcher and creator of the blog Cuba al descubierto, on which he has revealed the internal situation of Cuban commercial and military aviation.

Nicolás Maduro also frequently uses Cuban commercial aircraft to travel abroad. His most recent trip took him to the Middle East, and a stop at the Vatican. There is no public data on the nature of the aerial “collaboration” between the two regimes.

Cubana de Aviación fleet’s currently consists of about 17 aircraft. In addition to the four IL-96, it features six AN-158s, two TU-204s, and a few ATRs. The rest (an Airbus 319 and 320 and a Boeing 767) are aircraft leased to European companies.

The AN-158s, acquired very recently, represent a real headache for regular operations. Today it seems that half are out of circulation due to technical problems, based on their registration numbers.

“This is nothing new. The problem is the aircraft, which are not in proper condition,” explains Julio Infante.

Cubana de Aviación’s Russian long-haul fleet has shown signs of recovery. “They sent an IL-96 to Mexico to paint it, after a long time going unused. And they are preparing another, to get it up and flying too. In this case the four would be operating again,” Infante said.

Does this mean that Castro and Maduro’s international travel will no longer affect commercial flights? No one knows.