Private planes push capacity

The recent bumper number of private planes presented logistical challenges for the airports authority and private sector alike.

Kerith McCoy of the Cayman Islands Airports Authority said that between 24 and 28 December there had been 151 international general aircraft movements in and out of the airport, which peaked on 26 and 27 December. Another busy period comprises New Year’s Eve until 3 January, he said.

“This type of activity is normal for the Christmas/New Year week. We had general aviation aircraft ranging from small, twin-prop Cessna 310 to top-line executive jets like the Embraer Legacy and Gulfstream GV, with a broad variety in between.”

The vast majority of the aircraft that visit are US-registered, with others from Mexico, the UK, Honduras and Canada.

Mr. McCoy added that as with all physical aspects of Owen Roberts International Airport, capacity can be a challenge.

“In the case of overnighting general aviation aircraft, the challenge is adequate parking space, while maintaining sufficient operational space and ensuring safety. However, we are well versed in meeting this challenge and draw on our standing contingency arrangements, which date back to the days of the air shows and mass fly-ins we accommodated.

“We utilise groomed grass areas to park the smaller piston aircraft and helicopters, which gives us maximum paved area to park the jets. We have an excellent partnership with fixed base operator, Island Air, which provides towed parking services for the aircraft and as such, are able to position aircraft optimally,” he said.

Business teamwork

Island Air’s Marcus Cumber said that dealing with large numbers of planes had its challenges.

“We work closely with the airport tower and the police have been willing to move their location to allow for ramp space. Jerome

[Begot] of Island Helicopters has been fantastic and moved onto the grass opposite Foster’s; Johan Baraud and Harrison Bothwell of Cayman Airways have kept the Cayman Express planes at the main terminal, and IBC charters, which brings in all the couriers, have been processed at the main terminal so we have had space for all the planes.

“Businesses are working with other businesses to make it happen. Even the general aviation aircraft, the smaller phut-phuts, are all on the grass. They can use our golf carts, we give them free water ice and coffee and if they need a push or pull to get in and out of the grass, we can help them too,” said Mr. Cumber.

“We had our worst summer then the best Thanksgiving because it was cold up north, then nobody was travelling in December but we processed record numbers on Boxing Day [which continued until the end of the year]. It’s total peaks and valleys.”

He noted that the inclement weather in the United States brought additional aircraft to Cayman with some private owners diverting from other destinations including the Bahamas to chase the warmer weather. Indeed, there were 18 new aircraft during the holiday period, which built on 2009’s record 
Christmas numbers.

He added that although weather in the Cayman Islands had been relatively chilly in the immediate post-Christmas period, the fact that planes generally spent four to six days here meant that many visitors were also able to experience the improving weather toward the end of 2010.

“We get the sun now so it’s fantastic; we want people to see the blue colours of the ocean, how beautiful our beaches are. Most planes leave [over the immediate post-New Year period] so if there is sunshine that will make them forget about the two or three days of gloomy weather they may have experienced.”