House passes bill to boost Cuban airport security

The Hill, October 23, 2017

House passes bill to boost Cuban airport security

By Melanie Zanona – 10/23/17

The House easily passed a bill on Monday designed to boost airport security in Cuba, where commercial U.S. flights have been landing for over a year.

Lawmakers approved legislation by voice vote that would require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to assess each of Cuba’s 10 international airports and brief Congress about it, as well as disclose all federal air marshal agreements with foreign partners.

A delegation of lawmakers was denied visas last year to go check out Cuba’s airports themselves. They want to know whether airports are complying with new aviation security measures and keeping up with evolving threats, especially as U.S. officials warn that the threat to aviation remains as high as ever.

The House measure, which is sponsored by Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), also would require U.S. airlines to publicly disclose any contracts with entities controlled by the Cuban government to hire their employees and conduct airline operations on the ground.

Bill sponsors say the measure will encourage American airlines to directly hire their own employees — a step they say is necessary given the potential threat of insider access.

The bill’s passage also comes following a series of bizarre attacks on U.S. diplomats in Havana.

“There are gaps in our knowledge. … It’s incumbent upon us to find out what’s going on down there,” Katko said. “They allow very little oversight from TSA.”

However, the legislation would not halt commercial flights to Cuba, which began last year as part of former President Barack Obama’s historic opening with the island nation.

Last year, as the U.S. was preparing to resume commercial air service with Cuba for the first time in over 50 years, some

lawmakers tried to stop flights from going there until new security measures were implemented. But those members appeared to have backed off the effort.

“This is a very different bill than what was submitted last time,” Katko said during a committee meeting this summer. “We are not aiming to stop flights. We simply want to make them secure.”

Trump, who promised on the campaign trail to reverse Obama’s Cuba policy, rolled out new commercial and travel restrictions with the island  this summer. But Trump’s Cuba policy leaves the commercial air service between the two countries intact.

“I hope we get this bill to the president’s desk for signature, because we don’t mess around with things that are homeland security,” Katko said.