American, Cuban flags
American, Cuban flags Thinkstock

The United States and Cuba are continuing their efforts to restore ties, and are close to a deal on restoring regularly scheduled commercial flights, Cuban and American officials said Wednesday, according to ABC News.

The diplomatic advance would help open the way for U.S. airlines to begin flying to Cuba within months in what would likely be the biggest step toward tighter economic ties since the two countries began normalizing relations last year, the network noted.

Officials on both sides said they had reached an understanding on key points and hoped to reach a formal deal within hours or days.

Teams who have been meeting since Monday in Washington "have made important advances in negotiating a memorandum of understanding on establishing regular flights between Cuba and the United States, and shortly they will be ready to announce a preliminary agreement on this issue," Josefina Vidal, head of North American affairs for Cuba's foreign ministry, was quoted by ABC News as having said.

State Department spokeswoman Kerry Humphrey said late Wednesday that the countries "are making progress but still negotiating."

Relations between the United States and Cuba were formally restored on July 20, seven months after President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro agreed to restore ties snapped in 1961 during the Cold War.

The Cuban embassy in Washington opened in July, and the United States had previously officially dropped Cuba from its blacklist as a state sponsor of terrorism, allowing the country to have better access to American banking facilities and aid.

Right now, American and Cuban travelers must fly on charter flights that are expensive and difficult to book, forcing travelers to buy paper tickets in Cuba or email documents and payment information back and forth with an agent in the U.S. Those flying often must arrive at the airport four hours in advance and pay high prices for baggage in excess of strict weight limits.

U.S. officials and aviation executives have speculated that Cuba could allow more than a dozen flights to and from the U.S. a day.

Since the announcement last year that the U.S. would establish diplomatic relations and expand trade and tourism with Cuba, major airlines, including American, Delta, United, JetBlue and Southwest, have expressed interest in establishing regular flights from the U.S. to the island, noted ABC News.