Old plans could be revived for Grand Cayman airport project

Government will look to existing proposals as it attempts to draw up a plan for the development of the airport in the coming months, Cabinet minister Moses Kirkconnell has said.

Several plans have been put forward over the past decade for the expansion of Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman, and Mr. Kirkconnell, whose government ministry oversees tourism in the Cayman Islands, said he believes there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

The airport, built in the 1980s, is considered ill-equipped to cope with the number of passengers the government hopes to bring to the country. Cramped conditions and long queues in the terminal buildings are a common complaint.

Updating industry figures on both the airport and the cruise port at a panel discussion last week, Mr. Kirkconnell said both are priorities.

He said the airport project could move forward quickly once a business case was produced.

“We believe that the prudent way forward is not to start over,” he said. “There have been a lot of good things done at the airport as far as plans, there have been some very capable people that have done these. We are trying to take all of this asset base we have and use it in the best possible way.”

He said the aim is to enhance the airport so that it can meet the growth in development – such as the Shetty hospital and new hotels – and in sports tourism.

Mr. Kirkconnell said both the cruise port and airport developments would be driven by the respective boards, appointed in the past month. Kirkland Nixon leads the Cayman Islands Airports Authority, and Errol Bush was appointed last week as the new chairman of the Port Authority.

As those projects go through the planning and procurement process, the tourism ministry is looking at short-term solutions for problem areas at both sites.

Mr. Kirkconnell added that tents would be erected at the airport to ensure visitors don’t have to stand out in the sun. He said hiring new immigration officers would also be needed to ease queues.

At the port, similar “soft improvements” are under way to ensure cruise companies continue to bring passengers in the interim while the dock is being planned and built.

“We are trying to do this in a planned way that benefits everybody,” he said.

He said the two infrastructure projects are tightly linked to the revitalisation of George Town.

As Cayman puts the tools in place to boost visitor arrivals toward the two million mark from cruise tourism and up to 400,000 from air arrivals, there will be implications for traffic flow, waste management and business, Mr. Kirkconnell said.

He said zoning law would need to be changed to facilitate more residential property in George Town. A committee, including business leaders in the town, will be formed to look at revitalisation of the capital.

Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, said it makes sense to look at the effect of increased visitor arrivals on the country as a whole.