Department of Transportation concerned that company is advertising before having its license approved to fly from BaltimoreIt was undoubtedly exciting news: Baltimore would become one of the few spots in the U.S. offering flights to Cuba, a Communist nation largely off-limits to American travelers.
But one critical item had been overlooked: the paperwork.
Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Havana is being scrutinized by federal officials for promoting its plans before receiving the necessary approval for charter flights.
"They're licensed to fly out of another city, but not Baltimore," Charles E. Smith, a U.S. Department of Transportation attorney looking into the matter, said Thursday.
Tampa-based Island Travel & Tours Ltd. raised eyebrows at the agency after BWI announced this month that charter flights between Cuba and Baltimore would begin in March. The government is working to determine whether the Nov. 4 announcement violated rules that prevent advertising before charter flight schedules have been authorized, Smith said.
William Hauf, president of Island Travel, said he had just returned Thursday from Cuba and had no knowledge of the federal inquiry. After consulting with Island Travel's attorney, Washington-based Pierre E. Murphy, Hauf said he was confident that none the company's actions were inappropriate.
"We have not done any advertising; the press release was put out by a third party," said Hauf. "Our plans were based on pending DOT approval."
The announcement was made via email by BWI and posted on the airport's website. The same release had also been published on Island Travel's website but was removed Thursday night.
The statement was not an advertisement for flights, said Jonathan Dean, the BWI spokesman who sent out the announcement.
Skel secured landing rights from the Cuban government.
Island Tours is authorized by the federal government to be a carrier and travel service provider, according to an October 2011 document from the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
But Island Travel neglected to file a "public charter prospectus" — in essence, a flight schedule required for all charter flights, regardless of their destination.
Under federal regulations, "no charter operator shall operate, sell, receive money from any prospective participant for, or offer to sell or otherwise advertise a charter or series of charters until" the Department of Transportation accepts the prospectus.
The company will file an amended charter flight schedule Friday that will include the flights planned for Baltimore, said Hauf, who is optimistic that the filing will not push back the company's plans to start flying from Baltimore to Havana in 41/2 months.