By: Andrew Feather - email
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Members of Congress have raised concerns about the security of Cuban airports after the Cuban government blocked a congressional delegation from visiting the country last month.
The five-member delegation, which was going to inspect airport security and look for potential national security risks, had to cancel the trip after the Cuban government did not approve their visa requests.
Rep. Richard Hudson (R-08), was part of the delegation and he told WBTV he is worried about the security of Cuba's airports as the United States and Cuba are gearing up to start daily commercial air travel between the two nations.
Thursday morning, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) tentatively selected eight U.S. airlines to begin scheduled flights between the United States and Havana in ten cities, including Charlotte.
The other cities include: Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando, and Tampa, and service would start as early as this fall. The proposal comes nearly one year after the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations in July 2015.
The airlines receiving the tentative awards are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines.
"Why is Cuba denying members of the United States Congress the opportunity to come to Cuba?" Hudson said. "What are they hiding? What are they afraid we're going to see?"
In February, President Barack Obama's administration signed an agreement with the Cuban government to resume commercial flights between the countries for the first time in more than five decades. Up to 90 daily flights could be offered between the U.S. and Cuba.
After a hearing in May, members of the House Homeland Security Committee questioned whether Cuba had acceptable security processes and screening equipment in its airports.
A release from the committee said Department of Homeland Security officials did not adequately answer questions on Cuban airport security at the hearing.
Among questions raised at the hearing were whether Cuba had proper screening and explosive detection technology.
"The ability of a terrorist to get on one of those flights with some kind of explosive device, based on the information we've gotten so far, it looks like it could be a likelihood," Hudson said. "That means a plane coming into the United States, maybe coming into Charlotte with a bomb on it."
"That's terrifying to me and as a representative of the people of our community I'm deeply concerned," he continued.
Hudson also said he believes the Obama administration is moving too fast to promote commercial air travel with Cuba, and that congress is "weighing our options on what we can do." He said that because the money was appropriated last year and due to the Obama administration's determination, it will be hard for congress to do anything.
"I leave that in the hands of the federal agencies – customs and border protection – to insure safety. Here in Charlotte, our port director does a great job, our partners with CVP do a great job, and so we're and we're ready to work with American and CVP to accommodate the flight and move forward," Brent Cagle, of Aviation Direction at Charlotte-Douglas, said about the concerns.
"There's going to be daily flights coming into Charlotte, North Carolina out of Cuba from airports that don't have proper screening, that don't have explosive detection, there's no TSA on the ground, there's no air marshals on those planes. This is a country that has been a safe haven for terrorists." Hudson said. "American people, particularly people here in Charlotte ought to be real concerned about this."