Hola ! I was recently in Cuba on vacation and successfully managed to include a domestic flight as part of our travel arrangements. Flying domestically in Cuba remains quite a rarity from an A.net perspective and there are no other internal Cuban flight trip reports here that I could find. This also seems to be the first report on Aero Caribbean.
After years of US sanctions, Cuban aviation remains in a state of uncertainty. This means an exotic combination of Russian and Western aircraft plying the skies over this Caribbean nation.
I was sincerely hoping to get aboard an aging Russian airliner, but sadly it was not to be.
Route: Cayo Coco (CCC) - Havana (HAV)
Airline: Aero Caribbean
Aircraft: ATR 42-300
Flight: 7L 1817
Registration: CU - T1509
Date: Sat, 10 July 2010
Flight Time: 1 hour 5 mins
AERO CARIBBEAN - “LA AEROLINEA REGIONAL CUBANA”
Headquartered in Havana, the airline was established in 1982 and started operations on 2 December 1982. It was set up by the Cuban government to provide domestic flights and regional charters to supplement Cubana. Currently, the majority of the fleet is comprised of ATRs. I did see two EM110s and two Yak40s in Aero Caribbean colours in HAV, but it was not clear whether these aircraft were active or not. It looked liked one of the Yaks may have been used and one of the EM110s was in the hangar. I did not see any Yak40s move whilst I was in Cuba.
Aero Caribbean operates both domestic scheduled services to Cayo Coco, Hoguin, Santiago de Cuba, Cayo Largo, Neuva Gerona and Varadero. I also understand that some international flights are undertaken to places like Grand Cayman, Managua, Santo Domingo and Punta Cana.
Our ATR42 for today’s flight was Number 009 off the production line and delivered to Command Airways of the US as N140DD in January 1986, making the airframe over 24 years old. It later flew with American Eagle, before going back to ATR, and then ending up in Cuba with Aero Caribbean in 1998. It is one of 3 ATR42s in the fleet.
The Aeropuerto Internacional Jardines del Rey (IATA; CCC, ICAO: MUCC) is situated on Cayo Coco, in Ciego de Ávila Province, Cuba. The airport was inaugurated on December 26, 2002 and replaced the original airport located further west of the current location. In fact, the old airport runway has been linked up to form part of the main (and only) road that links Cayo Coco with its neighbour, Cayo Guillermo. The airport is the only one in Cuba that has a shared administration with AENA, the Spanish company that manages 47 airports in Spain, twelve in Mexico and three in Colombia. The majority of flights to Cayo Coco come from Canada, with charter services also from Britain and other parts of Europe.
The weather in Cuba at this time of the year is hot, hot, hot with plenty of moisture and humidity in the air. Saturday 10 July was no different. We left our hotel and made our way via taxi for the short journey to CCC. The airport itself is quite compact, with a small check in area. It was difficult to take any pictures without arising suspicion, as there seemed to be more staff, including immigration and security personnel wandering around than passengers. I managed to sneak a pic just near the entrance to the terminal and did not want to get into a discussion with security or immigration officials about why I was taking pictures!
Outside the terminal
The terminal is air conditioned, and relatively spacious for the small number of flights which were listed on the FID. Apart from our flight to HAV, which was listed as being on time, all other 5 flights for the day were either going to Toronto or Montreal. Air Transat, Canjet and WestJet all operating these flights. There is a separate entry for domestic flights which means passengers do not need to go through “Immigration Checking” as it is described at Cuban airports. Unfortunately, after securing our boarding passes at the check in desk, we moved through the channel for domestic passengers, which led straight into a holding pen, with no views of the ramp at all! At least there was a snack bar, and the room was big enough for the number of passengers on today’s flight to Havana, which I estimated to be about 35.
Check in queue at CCC which moved quickly
Fairly sterile waiting area
Our flight was not due to depart until 1355 and just after 1300 we managed to spot our little ATR42 arriving from Havana through the heat haze. A short time later, a bus rolled up and the boarding call for our flight was made. With such a small number of passengers, we were all onboard the bus quickly and it trundled out onto the tarmac for the short ride to our aircraft.
With “Environment Friendly” titles
I waited til last to get some pics of the aircraft on the ramp. Nobody seemed to mind although I was discreet as I had read that taking any photos at Cuban airports was prohibited - see above. We were welcomed onboard by a single male flight attendant, Luis, and I made my way to seat 4A, with was close to the port side propeller. The starboard propeller had started up as I was entering the cabin, so the crew were clearly eager to depart - that, and perhaps trying to cool down the cabin.
View from seat 4A
My first impressions of the aircraft were that the seat pitch was very tight, and the cabin itself was roasting. No ground equipment or APU seemed to be in use and whilst the aircraft had only been sitting on the ground for 20 mins or so, it was like a furnace inside. The cabin was also very simple, and you could tell it was an old ATR which had not been refurbished for many years. However, this was all part of the fun flying domestically in Cuba. It was exciting to be onboard my first Cuban domestic flight.
BYE BYE CAYO COCO
After the door was closed, the flight attendant welcomed everyone aboard in Spanish, then English and gave us some flight information. The safety demonstration was also given in Spanish and English. A local newspaper was handed out to those who could read Spanish. He then wished us all a nice flight on Aero Caribbean. No announcements were made by the flight crew at any time of the flight which was a shame, but our flight attendant more than made up for that with his friendly demeanour. I looked at my watch as we began to taxi out to the runway and was astonished to see it was only 1335 some 20 mins earlier than our scheduled departure time! I guess they figured we were all onboard, and there were no delays, so why not go early?
A short taxi up the single runway - no taxiways at CCC so we used the runway to taxi up to the southwesterly end.
Lining up and ready to go
Sorry for the poor quality of the pics, as the outside of my window was particularly dirty. All it needed was a good clean!
There were no hold ups by the time we got to the end of the runway, as there was no other traffic and the props fired up, we started our take off roll. I was instantly on notice at how loud it was in the cabin, which I am sure was a feature of the early model ATRs. Having experienced a brand new ATR72 of Binter earlier this year from TFN to LPA and TFN, it was clear how far the ATR had come since 1986!
Our take off was relatively short, and we launched into the hot and humid Cuban skies, passing the terminal to our left. You can see how simple but functional the terminal arrangement is at CCC.
We tracked north and out over the aqua waters of the Cays before making a sharp left turn, heading toward HAV. The cabin remained extremely warm, and passengers were all sweating profusely, for nearly 15 mins before it started to cool down. The views outside however, were fascinating as we flew parallel to Cuba’s northern coastline, before heading slightly inland, where the green Cuban countryside was evident. Just the odd small town along the way.
Passing the airport
Apart half way into the flight, we were served a drink, which was most welcome, given how hot the cabin had been on departure. Service was always with a smile and the flight went very quickly. The flight was relatively smooth with only the odd bump here and there. We did spend some time just before descent dodging a couple of large storm formations, which are common at this time of year. We were advised to keep our seat belts on for the remainder of the journey.
Poor seat pitch (from my perspective)
Avoiding some bumps inside these huge cloud formations
ARRIVAL INTO HAVANA
Descent commenced soon after, and we floated gradually toward Havana’s Jose Marti International’s Runway 06.
Just as we were landing, we passed the ex Air Lib DC10 which is now used as a trainer, as well as a couple of Aero Caribbean aircraft - one of which looked like it had been cannibalised for spares. After a smooth touchdown, we taxied past the Cubana hangar, revealing several exotic Russian aircraft. I don’t know how many IL96s CU have in their fleet, but one was in the hangar, and another was outside with engine covers on. I had thought they only had two or three of these aircraft in total, so this left me wondering what or who was operating CU’s intercontinental flights, if any?
AN24 getting some work
For some reason, the aircraft parked at the International Terminal (T3) and a bus was waiting to meet us. I had wondered whether the aircraft was to operate an international charter which is why it parked where it did. Everyone disembarked and a friendly goodbye from Luis, we were bussed……well I thought we were going to the nearby terminal, but in fact, we were driven miles away to the old original terminal which is on the other side of the airfield, which is used solely for domestic flights and some charters.
Shutting down at a remote parking position at T3
CU-T1509 resting on the hot ramp at HAV after arriving from CCC
This is where we were bussed to - the original terminal at Havana
Was I complaining? Definitely NOT. We had a great ramp tour as we passed T3, which was quiet at this time of the afternoon, with a sole COPA 737-800 at the gate, getting ready for a departure to Panama City.
We finally made our way to the old terminal building, passing several beauties on the way.
CU-7I703 at the Cargo Terminal
Some of the Aero Caribbean fleet at the domestic terminal
The bus ride sadly came to an end, and we were deposited at the terminal. A Cubana AN24 had just arrived as well, and we passed this all white aircraft whilst walking to the terminal.
Once inside, we were greeted by a dimly lit room, which whilst dark and somewhat dingy, was air conditioned, and only 5 or so minutes later, our bags came off. We headed out and made our way into central Havana. My first Cuban domestic flight was over.
Flying Aero Caribbean was a pleasant surprise. I guess I had no real expectations which made the experience a positive one. Whilst the ATR was ancient, and very loud, it was more than sufficient to get us from CCC to HAV efficiently. Although seat pitch was non existent, I did not find it too unbearable for the short flight (I am 6ft tall). The flight was not only on time, it was actually early so no issues with time keeping by Aero Caribbean. I have to wonder, however, whether this is the norm? Onboard, service was simple, but with a smile. What more could you want really? Bags were delivered in a matter of minutes after arrival so on the ground, no complaints either. I was disappointed that the flight was not operated by a Yak 40, but I was glad to simply add this flight to my log.
I have to hope that once sanctions against Cuba are lifted, that Aero Caribbean can really flourish and I wish them well.
Thanks for reading and any comments are welcome.
Cuba was simply amazing - an incredible place to visit, from the decaying old buildings and grandeur of Old Havana, to the cobblestone narrow streets of the UNESCO listed town of Trinidad de Cuba, to the crystal clear waters of the northern Cays. I can highly recommend it. Alas for most Americans, it still remains off limits.
Here are a couple of snaps taken in Havana and Cayo Coco.
Habana Vieja (Old Havana)
Statue of Jose Marti in Parque Central
Grand Theatre, Parque Central
Capitolio Building, Grand Theatre and Hotel Inglaterra, Parque Central from our hotel room
Catedral de la Habana, Habana Vieja
Cayo Coco 1
Cayo Coco 2
Cayo Coco 3