Cubana traces its beginning back to 1929 when it started as Compañía Cubana Nacional de Aviación Curtis, evidencing its association with the Curtiss plane-making company. In 1932, American airline Pan Am bought out Cubana, and the word Curtis was left out. Pan Am and Cubana continued their association until 1946, when the airline was taken over by Cuban interests when the word Nacional was also dropped from the airline's name. That year, services to Miami were started using DC-3 airplanes. The Miami route, because of its political significance, would later prove to be an important part of Cubana's history. In 1954, the air company became fully Cuban owned.
When Fidel Castro came into power, the airline, under Marxist rule, had to stop all United States routes, including the one to Miami International Airport. In 1959, it changed its name to Empresa Consolidada Cubana de Aviación, but the airline was still popularly known just as Cubana. With the US embargo, it had to turn to the Soviet Union to get its airplanes, and the first one to be obtained was the IL-14, just after the embargo began. Il-18, An-12 and An-24 soon followed. In 1974 with the arrival of the Il-62, considered by many experts to be one of the most efficient commercial airliners the Soviet Union built, Cubana was able to start services to Europe with flights to Barajas International Airport in Madrid.
During the 1980s, Cubana was one of a group of airlines waiting for a lifting of the US embargo since Miami is a city with a large Cuban community and also a potential money maker. This, however, did not happen, and Cubana is still eagerly awaiting this.
Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cubana was given license to buy jet-liners from elsewhere, but still not those built in the United States. They acquired Airbus A320 equipment and leased a DC-10 from French airline AOM. That plane was lost in a crash at Guatemala City. Cubana also acquired Fokker F27 planes to reinforce its fleet.
Cubana's Soviet-built planes began to suffer from old age, and the fact that spare pieces for those planes' parts were hard to find, and partly because of that it suffered a series of fatal accidents during the 1990s. In 1999, it was voted worst airline of the world by top travelling magazines. Because of this dubious distinction, Cubana is trying to improve its image and purchase new Airbus jets.
On April 1 of 2003, a AN-24 of Cubana was forced to fly to Key West, Florida by a man with hand grenades. The plane had to stop in Havana for refueling. In Havana, some of the 46 passengers in the plane escaped. The FBI awaited the plane at Key West.
Other facts of interest