UPDATE 2-U.S. grants Havana routes to 8 airlines, led by American
(Adds background, details on service)
Aug 31 (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Wednesday granted eight U.S. airlines permission to begin scheduled commercial flights to Havana starting as early as this fall, with American Airlines Group Inc being awarded 35 direct flights a week.
JetBlue Airways Corp, Delta Air Lines Inc and United Continental Holdings Inc were among the winners, with most proposing to begin services later this year or early in 2017.
The U.S. Transportation Department granted 20 daily Havana flights now after previously assigning routes to several Cuban provinces. The announcement was timed to coincide with the first scheduled commercial flight to the provinces, as JetBlue flew from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to the Cuban city of Santa Clara on Wednesday.
Improved air travel resulted from U.S. President Barack Obama's opening toward Cuba. The Cold War foes restored diplomatic relations a year ago following a 54-year break. However, the Communist-led island is still subject to a U.S. economic embargo that prohibits most other commerce.
Wednesday's final decision confirmed tentative assignments made on July 7.
American, the biggest U.S. airline in Latin America by flights, was granted four flights a day from Miami and one from Charlotte, North Carolina.
Its rival for Caribbean travel, JetBlue, was granted 27 weekly flights from New York, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.
The department also authorized 21 weekly flights to Havana on Delta, with daily flights from New York, Atlanta and Miami. Continuación...