Developments in the 2000s
After the 1990s, SACTA faced the need to replace its Soviet-built aircraft to improve its competitiveness with other airlines serving Cuba. SACTA refurbished some of its Ilyushin Il-62M aircraft in the early 2000s to continue using them in some of its international routes. The refurbished Il-62M aircraft were used in some flights within Latin America and for special flights to Africa. Restrictions imposed by the U.S. embargo on the sale of American-built aircraft and components (such as engines and avionics) also made it necessary for SACTA to keep the Il-62Ms in service, along with some Soviet-built aircraft for domestic and short-haul international routes. Its newest Il-62M (CU-T1284) was received from the Ilyushin factory in Kazan, Russia in early 1991, shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union (two other new Il-62Ms were received in 1990). With over four decades of experience with Il-62 and Il-62M aircraft, SACTA kept these aircraft in service longer than any other airline in the world, with the last Il-62M being retired from the fleet in 2011.
In 2004 Cuba and China signed an aviation accord to allow for the possibility of operating direct flights between Havana and Beijing or Shanghai. Those flights, when started, would most likely make an intermediate stop (possibly in Canada). The General Administration of Civil Aviation of China held talks with Cuban officials before the signing of the accord, and expressed the possibility that a Chinese carrier, such as Air China or China Eastern, would start services to Cuba in coordination with SACTA. Cuba has had long-standing cultural, commercial, and diplomatic ties with China that started in the mid-19th century with significant Chinese emigration to Cuba. The possibility of opening a route to China has seemed feasible for SACTA, given its experience with long-range flights and routes, the substantial commercial ties between Cuba and China, the long-standing cultural heritage of Chinese emigration to Cuba, and growing Chinese interest in the Caribbean and Latin America.
In late 2005 the airline received its first new long-range Ilyushin IL-96-300 to replace some of the leased Western-built wide-bodies and its Soviet-era aircraft. Christened Holguín, this aircraft became the first to wear SACTA's new eurowhite livery. Other Il-96-300s were delivered later, making it possible for the airline to shrink its leased Western-built fleet. New medium-range Tupolev Tu-204-100s were also ordered that year with deliveries starting in 2007. The new Il-96 and Tu-204 jets were financed with assistance from the Russian government.
During the August 2007 MAKS Airshow, SACTA signed a $150 million contract for the purchase of additional Tupolev Tu-204s and new Antonov An-158 aircraft. These new-generation Russian aircraft would allow SACTA to expand its services throughout the Caribbean and Latin America in addition to upgrading its domestic routes. As Russian-built aircraft attract increasing interest from Latin America, SACTA stands to become an important source of technical support and demonstration for airlines that may lease or purchase them.
Aircraft name: Holguín