Spirit Airlines fined for paying to fly over Cuba


Miramar-based Spirit Airlines has been fined $100,000 for paying the Cuban government for permission to use the island’s airspace, constituting a violation of the long-standing US embargo against the island.

According to a report by the Office of Foreign Asset Control of the Treasury Department, Spirit Airlines made several money transfers to Cuban government accounts from September 2004 to March 2007 without a valid license for such activity.

The fine imposed on the airline, which has its main hub at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, is the largest such penalty imposed by the agency during the fiscal year that began last October.

Spirit is the second Florida corporation fined this year for violating the embargo, following the $7,500 fine imposed on Fort Lauderdale’s BankAtlantic in February.

Spirit Airlines told El Nuevo Herald that the violation occurred ”in an unpremeditated manner,” a company spokeswoman said.

”During the beginning of 2007, Spirit Airlines realized that the permit required by [the Treasury agency] for authorizing flights over Cuba for the use of their airspace had not been renewed,” said Spirit’s spokeswoman, Misty Pinson.

“Spirit Airlines never had the intention of violating any requirements or laws to carry out its international operations.”

Spirit accepted blame. ”Because of this unintentional violation, our company quickly presented itself before the Treasury Department to provide all information regarding this matter, and following the meeting we agreed to pay the fine,” Pinson said.

Founded in 1980, Spirit Airlines is the nation’s largest private airline.

The company offers a wide range of domestic flights and promotional prices that start at $9.

The company also provides service to 22 destinations in the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

It is routine procedure and within the regulations of civil aviation for US carriers to pay other nations for the use of their airspace during international routes, just as the federal government charges carriers for use of US airspace.

Payments of this sort destined for Cuba require a special license from the Treasury Department, as part of the laws of the embargo.

The agency’s report — dated June 20 — indicates that two other US corporations were fined for sustaining illegal negotiations with Cuba:

• United Radio of Florencia, Ky., paid a $67,574 penalty because between March 2004 and November 2005 a subsidiary, Blue Star Canada, sent electronic products to Cuba illegally.

• Sonida International, based in Forest Hills, NY, paid $2,400 for making a bank transfer for a group of Cuban visitors on June 3, 2004.

$237,517 IN FINES
During the current fiscal year, the Treasury Department has imposed fines to both companies and individual residents of the United States for violations of the embargo that total $237,517 — significantly less than the $803,229 imposed in 2007.

The majority of fines on individuals resulted from the sale of Cuban cigars through the Internet.

Some 20 individuals have already been ordered to pay penalties that range from $1,000 to $6,000.

Treasury agency sanctions for violations of the embargo total nearly $4 million since 2004, when President Bush placed new limitations on travel and increased controls on money transfers from US companies.