Airport expansion looks to future

A renovation and expansion of the Owen Roberts International Airport at a cost of $25 million to $30 million is to provide a state-of-the-art facility that supports improved airline service to the rest of the world.

The plans also provide space for passenger and aviation activity projected through the next 20 years, along with further expansion possibilities thereafter.

The improved airport, which could be finished in as little as two years, would have a timeline for construction of 18 to 24 months following groundbreaking.

Aviation Minister Gilbert McLean told a press briefing yesterday at the Cayman Islands Airports Authority that the existing terminal does not adequately accommodate today’s larger aircraft, does not have enough space for current passenger loads, and it was severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan.

The improved terminal building would expand the building to more than 165,000 square feet, more than double its current area, and expands departure lounge space by 415 per cent.

The new plans provide passenger bridges for simultaneous boarding of several aircraft during all weather conditions. It expands food and beverage and retail concession areas and an enlarged departure/ticketing hall. Other features of the project are that it adds an enclosed arriving-passenger greeting hall, enhances safety and security, can be further expanded in phases as demand dictates and offers separate domestic passenger holding and baggage claim.

CIAA Board Chairman Harding Watler said the process started last year when they first started looking at making improvements to the airport, and this was then accelerated by the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Ivan.

The design has come down to two basic options with a decision to be made on one in early June, with final plans to be submitted to the Planning Department in August. It is hoped to begin construction very early in 2006, said Mr. Watler.

He said that it would be a challenge to keep the existing facility operating while expanding it and admitted that the scheduling for this would be a nightmare, but it would be done in very close consultation with the airlines, which have already been a part of the process.

The expansion would flow from all directions of the current terminal building, except the west.

Minister McLean said all involved have come a very long way with working toward a new enhanced design for the ORIA. He said a major study has been done on the airport for more than a year and the designs are based on what was found in the study.

Mr. McLean said the new expansion would increase and improve international security requirements and would allow for separate security checks for international and domestic travellers.

The existing terminal, being over 20 years old, has reached its life capacity, he said and it has become clear that it no longer meets the space and amenities deemed necessary for the modern world.

Discomfort can be experienced with passenger loads at peak times at ORIA, he said.

Mr. McLean is looking for feedback from the public on which design is preferred.

He said that since the CIAA is a good revenue earning authority, it could easily float a loan for the project, and it would not be necessary for Central Government to guarantee such a loan.

In planning ahead over the next 20 years, the project could cater for 1,225,000 passengers annually, six arrivals in peak hour and six departures in peak hour. Before the hurricane the number of passengers passing through ORIA annually was 890,774.

The two plans from which to choose differ mainly in that the second plan has larger side walks and has canopies out front, allowing for great passenger comfort. The second design is the more expensive.

Aesthetically the options being considered are light and shade and Caribbean Colours.

The designs have been purposely done not to look like a traditional airport building, but to reflect the character of the Cayman Islands.

One of the ways the CIAA is hoping to gain feedback from the public is through its website, which it will have up and running in the next couple of weeks.

Local architects CGMJ Ltd. who were the designers of the original ORIA terminal building have been appointed to prepare the design for the new facilities in association with Reynolds, Smith and Hills Inc. of Jacksonville Florida. This is an architectural and engineering firm specialising in airport design and multiphase airport expansion programmes.

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