The Country Where Nobody Flies

Did Cuba abandon its private pilots or did they abandon Cuba?

Airplanes, not automobiles, cruised the Malecon on parade day in 1953 to mark the 40th anniversary of Parla's historic flight. (From the collection of Jorge L. Rodriguez)
Air & Space Magazine

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Flight in Cuba today is military aviation. The Cuban military makes no secret that it owns Gaviota, the Cuban tourism agency, which in turn owns the hotels and night clubs on the island. Gaviota also owns the domestic airline, whose Antonovs and Ilyushins are flown by military pilots, the only type of pilots still trained in Cuba. “When you step aboard a Cuban airline,” Rodriguez says, “the air crew will be MiG pilots.”

Across the island, American cars from the 1950s—wire-tied and cannibalized—still sputtered along the roads. Left behind by their owners, the cars had become the property of the state, on loan to those the government favored. But in the skies over Cuba, there were only jumbo commercial airliners, the old Antonov and Ilyushin transports, and the contrails of MiG-29s.

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