Airport runway extension is discussed

Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford expanded on details of a possible runway extension at Owen Roberts International Airport Thursday.

Speaking at the Cabinet press briefing, Mr. Clifford confirmed that discussions had begun with a private sector group interested in seeing the runway extended.

‘We’re just in the discussion phase at this point,’ he said. ‘But it’s something we’re very interested in.’

The Cayman Islands has been desirous of luring more Europeans here for tourism and investment reasons. With the U.S. dollar currently weak against European currencies, Cayman vacations and real estate are seen as good values.

In addition, there is a lot of investment money flowing out of the various emerging markets, including those in Eastern Europe. However, the lack of a runway long enough to accommodate jets that can make non-stop trans-Atlantic flights is hindering Cayman’s ability to attract many Europeans.

Right now, British Airways flies to Cayman, making a stop in the Bahamas along the way.

‘B.A. says it doesn’t need a [runway] extension at this point,’ Mr. Clifford said. ‘And we haven’t been approached by another carrier yet.’

Although there are no European carriers at the moment expressing an interest to fly to Cayman, some thought has been put into the runway extension.

Mr. Clifford said a 2,000 foot runway extension was needed to take the current 7,000-foot runway to 9,000 feet.

He said the runway would have to be extended in both directions, meaning part of it would be built into the North Sound and part towards the current George Town cricket pitch.

The part of Crewe Road that currently goes around the airport perimeter from Dorcy Drive to Smith Road would have to be eliminated, Mr. Clifford said, although Huldah Avenue would be unaffected.

The construction of the runway would be a major project that would also be very expensive

‘It’s not like laying a road,’ he said. ‘Airplanes are a lot heavier than cars.’

In addition, a qualified marine contractor would be needed to build the part of the runway that would extend into the North Sound.

The runway extension is not a part of the current redevelopment project at Owen Roberts International Airport. However, an overall airport master development plan will be revealed in the Legislative Assembly shortly, Mr. Clifford said.