By Christopher Tobutt
Some big new changes for all three of Cayman’s airports (Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands) in order to accommodate the rising number of visitors. Philip Van Manen, an aviation planning and development consultant with Canadian design consultancy Stantec, unveiled the government’s proposed new 20 year master plan for Cayman’s three airports at John Gray High School on Wednesday 23 November.
With air passenger arrivals increasing at around 1.9 percent every year, the new aviation terminal at Owen Roberts International Airport completed under the last administration is already in danger of seeing bottlenecks during peak times. Over the next 20 years major improvements will be needed to accommodate a significant increase in traffic. The most pressing of which will be a proposed 1000-foot extension of the present runway eastward into the North Sound, Mr. Mansen said. That would bring the runway to 8,000 feet in total, and open up the door to use by a bigger class of aircraft which are able to travel longer distances. There is also proposed a substantial new taxiway, which would run parallel. It is impossible to extend the runway westwards, because the presence of tall buildings meant that approach for that end was limited, Mr Van Manen said. The present terminal would not have to be replaced, Mr. Van ….said. Rather, he showed the plans of an expanded terminal building with an additional floor. So far, the complete cost of expanding the runway and the terminal was not known
The proposed new developments would include a new hangar, able to accommodate more and larger aircraft, as well as a heliport. In addition to an expanded parking lot, there would be special provisions made for VIP parking spaces. Consideration was being given to all aspects of protecting the environment, and wildlife, and natural habitats wherever possible, and no major work would be undertaken without consultation with The Department of Environment, and the relevant environmental impact assessments which would be needed prior to the go-ahead.
Tourism and Transport Minister Kenneth Bryan stressed that so far, all of the proposals in the plan were subject to modifications and changes. The extension to the present runway at Owen Roberts was, nevertheless a priority, because it would open Cayman up to bigger aircraft from further afield such as Saudi Arabian Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, who had both expressed an interest in coming here, but could not presently do so because the runway was just too short for their planes. The Minister also mentioned the possibility of a dock facility at the North Sound end of the runway, allowing some passengers to disembark directly onto a boat.
While there are no proposals for extending the Cayman Brac runway at the Charles Kirkconnel airport, partly because of environmental considerations and the existence of an established turtle nesting site, there were still plans for a significant overhaul of the airport, and plans for widening the runway, and the buffer area on either side of the runway which is required in case aircraft get into difficulties. Eventually an new terminal building would be needed there too.
When it came to the Master Plan’s proposals for Little Cayman, the recommendations where, “Most controversial,” of all. That is because the existing airport on Little Cayman doesn’t meet any international standards, Mr. Van Manen said. In view of this fact a completely new airport was envisioned, rather than just an upgrade or overhaul. Presently the runway was well below standard and it didn’t possess the necessary adjacent border strips that were required as margins of safety in case an aircraft got into difficulty, so a completely new runway and taxiway was required, along with a small terminal building and new parking facilities. Currently the aerodrome operates on the basis of a special temporary exemption from the Civil Aviation Authority, Mr Van Manen said.