Little Cayman's airfield: Private property, public dilemma

Residents and businesses on Little Cayman hope that Cayman Airways' Twin Otter can start making more regular trips to the island, bring 'staycationers' from the larger islands once more restrictions are lifted.

Cayman Islands officials continue to grapple with the ownership situation of Little Cayman’s airstrip. 

Specifically, the runway of Edward Bodden Airfield is located on several pieces of private property, not on public land. 

That’s been the status quo since 
local residents built the airfield in the 
early 1960s.  

However, a pair of planning applications before the Sister Islands planning authority has raised the issue anew. 


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Runway, right of way  

Claudia Ryan and Annie Melrose Ryan have applied to the Development Control Board for permission to create two 12-lot subdivisions on about seven acres directly north of the Little Cayman airport runway. Access to the proposed subdivisions would be via a 30-foot vehicular right of way over the airport runway to Guy Banks Road. 

The applicants submitted their proposals last November, and the planning board has been soliciting comments from authorities throughout the year. The board listened to statements from the different parties during its 6 May meeting, and then adjourned the application in order to seek comments 
from Cayman Airways. 

The Cayman Islands Airports Authority, which operates the airports in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac, but not Little Cayman, said for safety reasons it would oppose using the runway as a right of way to access the subdivisions, but emphasised that the authority has no jurisdiction over the Little Cayman airfield, according to planning board records. Little Cayman’s airport is under the operational control of the Sister Islands District 
Administration, according to the Civil Aviation Authority’s website. 

An email from the Ministry of District Administration, Works, Lands and Agriculture also indicates that the Lands and Survey Department advised strongly against the proposal.  

In the email, ministry official David Fawcitt said he would like more time to consult with Sister Islands representative and former Cayman Islands Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly about potential solutions, including possibly purchasing the runway land through compulsory acquisition, or providing access to the subdivisions by an alternate road.  

During the 6 May meeting, ministry official Jonathan Jackson asked for the matter to be adjourned so that the landowner may enter into discussions with the ministry. 


Private, unlicensed  

During the meeting, James M. Ryan acted as the agent for Ms Claudia (his mother) and Ms Annie (his sister-in-law). Mr. Ryan gave a brief history of the Little Cayman airfield, saying in the early 1960s his father, James A. Ryan, was the secretary of Little Cayman Enterprises, owner of the Southern Cross Club. “The island needed a runway. Mr. James A. Ryan handled everything for the runway,” according to the board minutes. 

“Mr. [James M.] Ryan stated that the situation with the airport runway being located on private property has been an issue that all governments have ‘ducked’. He tried to get the issue resolved during the 12 years that he was district commissioner and later as chief secretary. He was unsuccessful. Cayman Airways is using private property for an unlicensed runway. 

“Mr. Ryan pointed out that a master plan had been created for a new runway over a decade ago, but still, nothing has happened. Time is overdue for answers to this problem. Mr. Ryan acknowledged that cars driving over a runway to access lots in the proposed subdivision is anything but a solution to the problem. He suggested that government consider extending Bill Crescent Road (east of the subject parcel) to give the subject parcel an alternative access,” according to the minutes. 


New airport  

Richard Smith, director of general aviation for the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands, said his authority has been trying since the late 1960s to develop an airport in Little Cayman, and he has been involved in those efforts since 1981. In November 2002, a master plan for the Little Cayman airport was created, but the project was never built, according to the minutes. 

A March 2004 news release indicates the aviation authority intended to break ground on the new Little Cayman airport in September 2004, which is when Hurricane Ivan devastated the Cayman Islands. 

According to the news release, the new airport would be located on crown property near the western central part of Little Cayman, about 1.5 miles northeast of Edward Bodden Airfield. 

“Mr. Smith stressed that he did not attend the meeting to object to any grant of approval for the subdivision application. His concern is aircraft regulation and safety. He prefers to see the approved airport actually built. Concessions have been given to Cayman Airways Express to continue service to Little Cayman. The margin for safety is getting small as the immediate area develops,” according to the minutes. 


In context  

Mr. Smith also said that Cayman Airways wants to purchase larger aircraft, but it cannot because of the limitations of the Little Cayman runway, which is 3,275 feet long and 35 feet wide. At the moment, Little Cayman is served by 19-passenger Twin Otter prop planes. On the other hand, Cayman Brac’s runway, which is 6,010 feet long and 150 feet wide, is able to accommodate Boeing 737 jets. 

Keith McCoy, acting CEO of the airports authority, said he believes the proposed site can be developed as a regulated airport, requiring a significant amount of fill to bring the west end of the runway up to standards, and the implementation of height restrictions on neighbouring development.

Mr. McCoy’s comments were based on a recent visit he had made to the proposed site on which preparatory works had been done some 10 years ago.

Neither Mr. McCoy nor the airports authority proposes redevelopment of the current Edward Bodden Airfield site as a regulated airport.*

“Mr. McCoy also reminded that CIAA is currently working on expansion of two airports. A new airport in Little Cayman would significantly impact CIAA’s financial ability to expand airports in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac,” according to the minutes. 

As of presstime, the Caymanian Compass could not reach Sister Islands representative and Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell for comment. 


Editor’s note: This story has been corrected from the original for clarity.


A Cayman Airways Express plane is seen parked next to the runway at Edward Bodden Airfield in Little Cayman. – Photo: File
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  1. There are ferries around the world that carry passengers daily in much worse conditions that the bog between Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. The English Channel is one. The ferry between Nova Scotia and Newfoundaland is another. Isla Mujeres and Cancun in the Yucatan. There are ferries like this all over the world, being captained by people less capable than the Bracers looking for work. Being too shallow is a worse issue than too deep. And currents are simply not an issue.

  2. If I remember did the Government waste a lot of money about 10 years ago trying to put a new run way through a peat/ swamp and then gave up.

    I like the idea of a ferry, I traveled on many that had to deal with strong currents and they still worked. I never heard of the water being too deep that’s a new one for me – smile!

  3. Sorry Hunter, but you don’t have the slightest clue what you’re talking about. I’ve made that crossing dozens of times, if not a few hundred times. It’s the standard way to resupply the various Little Cayman resorts during a northwester. Fly the foodstuffs into Cayman Brac and send a couple of dive boats to pick it all up.

    That particular weather pattern would be the biggest problem for a ferry service as the Salt Rock docks on Little Cayman are directly affected in a northwester.

    In short, a ferry service wouldn’t be 100% reliable without the construction of a better docking facility on Little Cayman. That wouldn’t be acceptable to the typical tourist that Little Cayman attracts.

  4. Little Cayman’s airfield has been a hot potato for the past 30 years. It’s still the same ol’ grass strip on private property. To insure all-important increased tourism figures for the Sister Islands, a larger airfield must be built on LC to handle the Big Boeings Cayman Brac can handle. Let’s not waste another 30 years figuring out the solution to this problem! If Miss Claudia and her sister want to build a development on private land just north of the grass strip – more power to them for waiting decades to start! This airfield mess and the Cayman Brac mt. trashmore dump are the two hottest potatoes in the Sister Islands. Until they are taken care of by our worthy new government, tourism will lag and languish woefully on these islands.

  5. Re a FERRY from the Brac to Little Cayman: We all know horror stories about Cayman Airways Twin Otters being fully booked and taking off with several seats available while passengers are stranded on the Brac. A couple of daily scheduled crossings of The Bogue between Little Cayman and the Brac in a hovercraft would be welcome changes on both islands. The ferry would provide jobs galore on land and sea and people would enjoy cruising from one place to the other to sample the tourism wares. Workmen could travel easily between the two islands across the 5 mile Bogue. While we’re at it – why not a hovercraft from GRAND CAYMAN to the Sister Islands? To increase the languishing economy of these islands, thinking outside the box is essential these days.

  6. Ferry service seem like an good idea, with a purpose built protected mooring. The passage would be an excellent tour over. Would still need the air for the jet set business man, and emergencies though. Or turn the subject from public dilemma, to public domain.


  7. So has Cayman Airways been paying landing fees every time it used this private strip?

    Can’t understand how the CIAA had approval (and obviously therefore funding) to build an airport 9 years ago and now they can’t find those funds…

    Also a tad ironic that they’ve just closed down the Georgetown heliport as unsuitable.

    When is Government going to realise you can’t spend the same dollar twice.

    By trimming bloated Government expenses, Waste and inefficiency – affording a new airport for LC and even building a proper mansize international airport for Grand Cayman at e.g. Northside area becomes possible. Do people realise that the current runway is too short and planes cannot load enough fuel to get to europe – hence the Nassau stop. Direct flights would boost tourism and the economy.

    There has even been comments that the runway at Owen Roberts is too small as a result of a deliberate policy decision to favour Cayman Airways – Forcing international flights into Miami and Cayman Airways gets to shuttle passengers MIA to GCM and back – short runways or short sightedness, who knows, but after a transatlantic flight – Miami to Cayman is a pain in the behind.