US carriers Silver Airways and Frontier Airlines said they will end service to Cuba, citing excess capacity and other challenges in the newly reopened US-Cuba market.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Silver and Denver-based Frontier were two of nine US airlines that started serving Cuba in the second half of 2016 and early this year after former US President Barack Obama initiated a reopening of US-Cuba relations that included the first air services agreement between the two countries in more than 50 years. But Silver—which operates flights from Fort Lauderdale to smaller Cuban destinations with 34-seat Saab 34B turboprops—and Frontier—which started operating daily Airbus A320 Miami-Havana flights Dec. 1, 2016—have quickly determined the US-Cuba market is not viable.

Silver will drop service April 22 to the Cuban destinations Santa Clara, Camagüey, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Cayo Coco, Varadero and Manzanillo. Frontier will drop Miami-Havana flights June 4.

Other US airlines are maintaining service to Cuba despite challenges, noting it is a new market that will take time to develop. But American Airlines did trim flights from Miami to the Cuban destinations Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero from 2X-daily to 1X-daily in February. It also switched from 144-seat A319s to 76-seat Embraer E175s on flights to the Cuban cities Camaguey and Cienfuegos.

While commercial air service between the US and Cuba has been restored, there are still restrictions on Americans’ travel to the island nation, with travelers having to fit into one of 12 approved categories that include, among other areas, trips related to education and humanitarian causes. But trips to Cuba purely to take a vacation are not allowed.

There also is a great deal of uncertainty about whether US President Donald Trump, who was highly critical of his predecessor’s Cuba policy during last year’s presidential campaign, will maintain the air services agreement and other US ties to Cuba.

Especially considering these trials, Silver and Frontier have concluded there is far too much capacity in the US-Cuba market.    

“While the actual total number of passengers currently traveling to and from Cuba on all carriers combined is in line with what Silver originally projected, other airlines continue to serve this market with too many flights and oversized aircraft, which has led to an increase in capacity of approximately 300% between the US and Cuba,” Silver spokesperson Misty Pinson said in an email. “In addition to overcapacity, distribution through online travel agencies and codeshare agreements has been unavailable since airlines began servicing Cuba last fall. Now, six months later, this issue is still not fully resolved, resulting in depressed demand. This lack of demand coupled with overcapacity by the larger airlines has made the Cuban routes unprofitable for all carriers.”

Pinson added that it does not make sense for Silver “to behave in the same irrational manner as other airlines,” leading to the decision to drop flights to Cuba. “However, Silver will continue to monitor Cuba routes and will consider resuming service in the future if the commercial environment changes,” she said.

A Frontier spokesperson said that “costs in Havana to turn an aircraft significantly exceeded our initial assumptions” and “market conditions have failed to materialize there.” The spokesperson noted that “excess capacity has been allocated to the Florida-Cuba market.”

Frontier will add a second daily Denver-St. Louis service instead of serving Havana.

Aaron Karp aaron.karp@penton.com