In 2015, in a major turning point in his nation's long feud with Cuba, then-US President Barack Obama announced Americans could travel to the previously off-limits island for the first time in decades.

With the floodgates open. American citizens rushed to holiday or catch up with relatives in Cuba, following Mr Obama's own historic visit, and US carriers began flying into Havana's state-run Jose Marti International Airport, for the first time since the 1950s.

About 50 airlines now fly to Havana, including five US carriers. But they are facing trouble from a little-known man with a big, bold claim.

In a major Games of Thrones power move, Cuban-American man Jose Ramon Lopez Regueiro claims he is the sole and rightful heir to Havana airport, which was snatched from his father in the 1959 Cuban Revolution. And he's taking on some of the world's biggest airlines, saying they never asked for his permission to fly in and out of his stolen property.

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Overthrown

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro seized all private property when he claimed control of the island in 1959 in a socialist coup.

That included Jose Marti International Airport, 15km from Havana.

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Before the revolution, the airport was a significant international travel hub. It was the takeoff location for the first transatlantic flight from any Latin American country to Europe, and it handled daily flights between Havana and US cities.

Its major stakeholder was Jose Lopez Vilaboy, a close friend of the former dictator Fulgencio Batista, who was overthrown by Castro. When the revolution happened and his airport was confiscated, Mr Vilaboy fled Cuba, leaving behind a six-year-old boy.

Revolutionaries: Fidel Castro, right, with Che Che Guevara after the 1959 communist revolution. Photo / Alberto Korda, Museo Che Guevara, Supplied
Revolutionaries: Fidel Castro, right, with Che Che Guevara after the 1959 communist revolution. Photo / Alberto Korda, Museo Che Guevara, Supplied

As the Cold War set in, US airlines were banned from flying to Cuba, and Havana airport was serviced mainly by international airlines from Soviet bloc countries.

Certain special charter services by US carriers were allowed in the 1990s but it wasn't until 2016, when Mr Obama eased travel restrictions, that commercial carriers such as American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines resumed regularly scheduled services.

The airport has three terminals that service 5.7 million passengers a year on about 50 airlines. But the airport's operation has been called into question since US President Donald Trump made a major announcement this year.

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'I've been waiting 60 years'

In April, Mr Trump enforced a long-dormant law, Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which allows Cuban people who later became American citizens to seek compensation in US federal courts for Cuban properties that were confiscated by Castro.

So far, cruise giants Carnival and Royal Caribbean, Expedia, Booking.com and Credit Suisse are among the companies that have been accused of taking advantage of confiscated properties without compensation to their original owners.

That's where Vilaboy's son — the boy he left behind in the revolution — comes in. Jose Ramon Lopez Regueiro, now 65, claims he is the sole heir to Havana airport, which was stolen from his father.

Get off my runway! One man has made a claim to José Martí en La Habana-Cuba. Photo / Flickr.com, Roji Negro
Get off my runway! One man has made a claim to José Martí en La Habana-Cuba. Photo / Flickr.com, Roji Negro

The Florida resident is suing American Airlines and Chile's LATAM Airlines for using Havana airport without his authorisation. He filed his lawsuit in Miami last month.

Mr Lopez Regueiro's lawyer said he chose an American and South American airline to test the legal issues in the case and if successful, he would pursue other companies. Those may include Air Canada, Air France, Spain's Iberia and Aeromexico.

In addition to Havana airport, Mr Lopez Regueiro's father was also a shareholder of an airline company, a newspaper and a hotel, all of which were seized by Castro in the revolution.

Havana's historic airport: Pope John Paul II welcomed by Castro at Jose Marti Airport. Photo / Antonio Ribeiro, Getty Images
Havana's historic airport: Pope John Paul II welcomed by Castro at Jose Marti Airport. Photo / Antonio Ribeiro, Getty Images

"For his efforts, Vilaboy, like so many other Cubans, was left with nothing when Fidel Castro took power and established a communist government, which stole his property and forced him and his family to flee Cuba," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said the defendants, American Airlines and LATAM, "have trafficked in or benefited from ongoing, unlawful trafficking in the Airport, by arriving and departing the Airport and using its facilities for cargo and passenger transport".

Mr Lopez Regueiro says the airport was worth $24 million (NZ$38 million) in 1958. His father bought the land from its previous owner, Pan American Airways, in 1952 for $1.5 million (NZ$2.4 million).

His father escaped Cuba on January 1, 1959, the day Batista fled the island. He never saw his father again.

Delta celebrates ending the 55-year hiatus after American planes return to Cuba in 2016. Photo / Supplied
Delta celebrates ending the 55-year hiatus after American planes return to Cuba in 2016. Photo / Supplied

"I'm very optimistic that justice will finally be served. I've been waiting 60 years for this moment," Mr Lopez Regueiro told AFP.

American Airlines said in a statement its trips to Cuba were authorised by several US agencies.

"Title III specifically exempts lawful travel, which is what American provides," the airline said.

"We'll review this lawsuit in detail and vigorously defend our service to Cuba."

But John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said the lawsuit could have wide-reaching implications.

"If more airlines are sued, some of the smaller ones may leave Cuba or change airports — presuming other airports are not subject to claims," he told Reuters.

"There are fifty-one airlines serving Havana."

In another case to come out of the Title III development, Cuban-American man Javier Garcia Bengochea is pursuing compensation from Carnival Cruise Line for using a confiscated Cuban port terminal.

"We continue to offer our normal cruise schedule to Cuba for our guests," a Carnival spokesman told AFP.