Although the current airport expansion plan leaves way for the runway at Owen Roberts International Airport to be extended in the future, it is something that is currently not necessary.
So said Minister for Tourism and Aviation Charles Clifford at a Cabinet press briefing on Friday.
‘The extension to runway is something for later on because there’s no need for it at this point,’ Mr. Clifford said.
The Minister noted that he has had discussions with British Airways and other European carriers for long-haul flights, and they’ve considered factors such as the number of tourism rooms available on the island at the moment . . . ‘and until we get more rooms it’s going to be difficult to justify non-stop flights out of Europe with aircraft the size of a 747,’ he said.
The Minister explained that even with aircraft the size of a 767, which is what BA flies in here now, it is unlikely that they would do a non-stop flight to Grand Cayman, even with an extension to the runway, because they do twin drop-off operations in the Caribbean, such as first flying to Nassau in the Bahamas and then on to Grand Cayman. One flight wouldn’t work without the other, the minister said.
‘A lot of their front passengers are coming to Cayman whereas a lot of economy are going to the Bahamas and they also bring in a lot of cargo to Grand Cayman from UK. At this point in time there is no need to extend the runway. If we need to do that later on we certainly can and that extension could easily accommodate a 767 aircraft, but not a 747 aircraft.
‘What we want to do then is to have the ability to get the non-stop flights in and there are a number of considerations when we go down that road.’
It’s a very technical area, he said, and the issue is if there’s an emergency immediately after take off there’s not enough landing space in 7,000 square feet with a full load of passengers and fuel so hence the runway is not currently certified for that level of non-stop activity.
Mr. Clifford noted that there hasn’t been much demand for airlines to bring in bigger aircraft here. ‘It is an investment that just wouldn’t be justified now, and it would have to come in a future phase of redevelopment.’
Mr. Clifford added that when there is talk about additional airlift, it is with regard to additional frequencies from airlines that already service the country, rather than new airlines coming in.