Sun Country Airlines has applied with the U.S. government to operate two weekly nonstop flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Havana, the company confirmed Wednesday night.

The Mendota Heights-based airline submitted its route bids to the U.S. Department of Transportation by the Wednesday deadline along with a slew of other U.S. airlines hoping to fly routes between their large domestic hubs and the island nation. The U.S. carriers are competing to fly the first commercial nonstop routes between the United States and Cuba in five decades. 

Sun Country is the only airline bidding on a nonstop between Cuba and Minnesota.

While the federal government will have 110 routes to divvy up between the carriers, just 20 of those are to Havana -- the capital city and Cuba's most sought-after tourism destination. The remaining routes will be allocated to Cuba's nine other international airports.

"Sun Country has bid on a few year-round routes from Minneapolis to Havana, both nonstop, as well as a one-stop flight through Fort Myers, Florida," said Zarir Erani, the airline's president and chief executive, in a statement.

In addition, he said, "we have bid on seasonal routes to Varadero and Santa Clara in hopes of offering additional vacation destinations to our hometown customers."

Nearly every major U.S. airline and several budget and regional carriers announced their bids late Wednesday afternoon. USA Today has compiled a list of the bids already made public.

Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, bid for daily flights between Havana and Orlando, Miami and New York City, and two daily flights to its hometown of Atlanta.  

Sun Country made no formal announcement, but confirmed its application with the Star Tribune.

An agreement reached in February paved the way for commercial flights between the two countries. Several U.S. airlines have operated in Cuba, but as chartered flights.

Sun Country began experimenting with Cuban charters nearly three years ago by offering two or three daily shuttles from Miami to various Cuban airports. Last March, it was a Sun Country 737 airplane that chartered the first nonstop between New York and Havana since President Barack Obama restored diplomacy with Cuba at the end of 2014.

Outside of Havana, tourism infrastructure lags, making the 20 new commercial routes between a U.S. port and Cuba's largest city the most coveted.


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