Airport expansion delayed

The Owen Roberts Airport expansion is now well behind its original building schedule over financing issues with the multi million dollar project.

Although site works were carried out at the airport toward the end of last year, Phase One of the airport redevelopment – which was scheduled to start in February of this year after a 10-week tendering process – has still not begun.

As part of an emailed response to queries on the status of the Airport Expansion Project, the Cayman Islands Airport Authority Board of Directors and management said they continue to work toward realising the project.

‘The board of directors has taken the decision to delay the tendering process until the financing arrangement has been finalised,’ said the response.

Recently in the Legislative Assembly budget debate Opposition MLA Cline Glidden said in relation to the airport expansion progress, ‘We have now seen what appears to be pretty much a standstill’.

In an interview in December 2007, then CIAA CEO David Frederick had said talks were ongoing with a number of financial institutions and once the bids came in for the tendering process for the building works they felt that financing would not be a problem.

During the budget debate, Mr. Glidden said the government is refusing to guarantee a loan that would allow the airport development to continue.

‘An important part of our infrastructure, the airport, seems to be unsure. So far, we haven’t seen progress…and we have heard that government is not willing to go forward and provide a guarantee.’

The CIAA noted in its response this week, ‘The CIAA is seeking to fund this project without it being a burden to the national government.’

They said, ‘The financing arrangement is being negotiated and as soon as this is finalised the project will move forward’.

When that will be remains unclear.

If Phase One had started in February when it was originally scheduled, the transformed and expanded airport would have been expected to be finished by June 2010.

The Airport Expansion Project is to triple the size of the terminal building and bring great improvements to the facility.

The airport serves approximately 800,000 passengers annually. The new expanded facility is being designed to facilitate and process 1.25 million passengers per year, with such an anticipated increase in passengers over the next 20 years. The concept of the new design is to ensure it is well planned for the future and remains adaptable to growth and change beyond the next 20 years.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly in the context of the government’s overall borrowing plan, which he said was too expensive for the country, Mr. Glidden said, ‘We’ve heard concerns expressed about (the current location of the airport) with the limitations on space; it doesn’t seem to be a prudent investment.’ He said the expanded airport would only have a 10 to 12 year useful lifespan. ‘We all understand how important it is to have a modern and acceptable airport. Maybe it’s not worth it to spend the money in the current location,’ said Mr. Glidden.

The CIAA, in its response, said, ‘The lifespan of the expansion is hoped to be longer than a decade, and the present airport terminal is already proving to be fast becoming inadequate for the passenger movements presently experienced.’

Mr. Glidden also made reference to moving the airport out to East End as an option, but the CIAA has said this is not a viable option at this time.

The Opposition MLA made reference to a $50 million to $70 million cost for the expansion project. However, there has been no official figure released by either the Minister of Tourism or the CIAA on the estimated cost of the project since the government announced its plans for it in January 2007.

‘The board of directors’ view is to be prudent not to release any financial information about the project as doing so has the potential to influence the tendering process when this comes about,’ said the CIAA response.

The expansion project is to be conducted in three phases.

The first phase will include expansion of the ticket hall, the construction of the domestic service passenger area and the new immigration and baggage reclaim area. This phase includes extensions to both the east and west of the building and the building of a second floor in these areas.

Phase two is the construction of the boarding bridge connections and the meeter/greeter hall, which will complete the front of the building. The international departures lounge and concession areas will also be built in this phase.

Phase three will see the renovation of the remaining interior spaces.

The expansion is to take place around a fully functioning airport.

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