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US and Cuba to restore commercial air routes

Commercial flights are set to be restored between Cold War foes the US and Cuba. Several airlines have expressed interest as US travel to the island nation has increased in the past year.

The United States State Department announced on Thursday that Cuba and the US have agreed to resume direct commercial airline service. The announcement came on the one-year anniversary of the historical détente between the Cold War enemies.

"On December 16, the United States and Cuba reached a bilateral arrangement to establish scheduled air services between the two countries," said the US State Department in a statement.

The arrangement "will continue to allow charter operations and establish scheduled air service, which will facilitate an increase in authorized travel, enhance traveler choices and promote people-to-people links between the two countries."

The agreement, which took months to negotiate and was finalized on Wednesday night, paves the way for US airlines to negotiate with Cuba's government for routes. Airlines in the US will now also be able to sell flights to Cuba directly from their websites.

Watch video 01:28

Cuba attracts American tourists

Until now, travelers have had to book expensive charter flights to and from the island nation. Now, passengers will be able to buy tickets directly from major airlines, which should boost both business and tourism in Cuba.

Airlines such as JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta, and United have already expressed interest in opening up Cuba routes after President Barack Obama announced the rolling back of travel restrictions over the past year.

As a result of easier travel, US citizens' visits to Cuba have gone up 71 percent in the past year, despite general tourism still being banned due to

the trade embargo

, which the US Congress has yet to lift.

rs, es/bw (AP, Reuters)

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