By Staff Writer
If all goes according to schedule, the Owen Roberts International Airport (ORIA) on Grand Cayman and Charles Kirkconnell International Airport on Cayman Brac will be buzzing with construction and upgrading activity between next year and 2029.
Hon. Minister for Tourism and Ports, Kenneth Bryan, this week gave details of an extensive airport development scheme he hinted at during a recent interview on the Caymanian Times radio programme Cayman Conversations.
The massive undertaking budgeted at CI$ 76 million will entail four significant undertakings. Those are extending the runway at the ORIA estimated at $28M in today’s prices, and improving the main airport’s air traffic control surveillance system ($4.7M), a new General Aviation Facility costing $42M.
The other project is for CI$ 1.5 million Runway End Safety Area (RESA) works at the Charles Kirkconnell international airport.
These projects fall under the Business Case of a broader Airports Master Plan with a slate of recommendations for an investment of CI $800M over 20 years “which is not feasible to consider in the current economic environment” as Mr Bryan explained.
Mr Bryan who is also mapping out a major cargo port development plan, said that with cabinet giving the green light for the airport projects, they will now “proceed to the next phases of the development process, which are public consultation, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and procurement.”
With the bulk of the planned works focused on the ORIA, especially extending the runway into the North Sound, questions have been raised about its environmental impact but Mr Bryan has assured that those concerns are being taken into consideration.
FUNDING VIA FEES
The projects will be funded through an increase in the terminal fee to CI$5.00 along with a new airport development fee of CI$15.00.
“It is important to note that the Airports Authority will not require any funding from the government to complete these projects,” the Tourism minister pointed out. he also noted that the new airport development fee will be applicable only during the construction period, which is estimated to be six years from 2024 to 2029.
“This means that neither the Airport Authority nor the Government will need to borrow funds in order to cover the estimated capital and operating expenditure during the lifetime of the Projects.”
He also stressed that with the new fees Cayman “would not be pricing ourselves out of the market.”
Albert Anderson. Chief Executive Officer at Cayman Islands Airports Authority, concurred.
“We did a fairly detailed analysis of our rates versus our top 10 competitors according to the Department of Tourism, and with our old rates without the increase we were I think in the bottom four in terms of price. With the increase we came up a bit but I think we are still in the bottom half.”
Cayman’s competitive advantage as a tourist destination underlines the decision to proceed with what has been described as ‘Scenario 4 of the new Airports Master Plan as well as ensuring that the facilities are at quality standards, Tourism Minister Bryan stated.
“A crucial part of Government’s responsibility in managing the tourism industry is to bring about solutions that will boost our ability to retain our market share as a leading tourism destination. Tourism is one of the most competitive industries on the planet and it is therefore imperative that we not only maintain the quality of the facilities and services that the Cayman Islands offers, but that we also bring them in line with the best in the world, to keep pace with the changing expectations and requirements of our visitors.”
The benefits listed by Mr Bryan from these projects include increased stay-over visitor spending, increased revenues for the Cayman Islands Government, increased opportunities for additional airlift into Grand Cayman, and greater overall profitability for the Cayman Islands Airports Authority.
That perspective is supported by Cayman’s Director of Tourism Rosa Harris.
“A new facility will enable an elevated arrival experience and these travellers that use the general aviation terminal expect their expectations to be anticipated before they even say it,2 she stated.
“So we have high expectations of this facility to be able to process our guests more efficiently. Given that the traveller’s first and last impression of the Cayman Islands is influenced by the airport experience, our islands require the general aviation facility to be consistent with sophisticated luxury.”
The Tourism Director also said that the upgraded facility will also place Cayman in a better position “to engage with private jet providers in a more meaningful way”.
Compared to previous projects involving airport development, the chairman of the board of ORIA, Johan Moxam is confident that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.
“I would put my neck on the chopping block to say we will not make the same mistakes of the previous administration and the previous board because we’re a lot more conservative in nature. We’re driven and truth be told, we don’t want the sort of stigma to follow us in the way that it’s followed the previous administration and the boards.”