TAMPA — A new Cuba route will come online in December, connecting Tampa International Airport to a third city: Santa Clara.
ABC Charters, which already flies once a week to Havana and Holguín, announced Wednesday that it will also start flying to Santa Clara on Dec. 4. It will be Tampa's first connection to Santa Clara since air service linking Tampa to Cuba was restored after 50 years in September 2011.
In the fall, during the peak season of travel to Cuba, ABC will add a second weekly flight to Havana on Nov. 5. ABC's competitor, Island Travel & Tours, flies the Tampa-Havana route three times a week.
That means in the fall, Tampa International Airport could have as many as seven flights a week to Cuba.
According to the airport, more than 85,000 people have used Tampa International to travel to Cuba since September 2011. Tampa will join Miami as the only U.S. cities to have direct flights to three Cuban cities.
"Adding this third location speaks to the Tampa Bay area's demand for more flights to Cuba," said Tampa International Airport chief executive officer Joe Lopano in a prepared statement. "The Tampa Bay region has the third largest Cuban-American population in the United States, with historic ties to the island nation dating back to the days before José Martí. This airport is continuing to expand its international presence."
Passengers traveling to Cuba from Tampa International will also have greater access to the entire island nation. Santa Clara, with a population of about 220,000 people, is in the center of Cuba. Havana is along the western edge and Holguín is in the east.
Santa Clara was the site of a decisive battle for the rebels during the Cuban revolution in 1958. The rebels, in part, were led by Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who was buried in the city after his death in 1967.