Plans for a new airfield in Little Cayman are under discussion as part of the proposed multimillion-dollar overhaul of local airports.
The current airfield is on privately owned land and concerns have been raised over encroaching development and the fact that a road runs through it.
The project is still in the planning stages and funds have yet to be allocated for development. Tourism chiefs are assessing a potential location for the airfield.
In his budget address on Thursday, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said, “This proposed facility will be constructed on land owned by the Cayman Islands Airports Authority. The first phase is to have it surveyed and cleared. We can then look at what it will cost to construct the runway.”
He said the development would allow Cayman Airways to use more cost-effective turbo-prop aircraft and would help deal with some liability issues at the existing site.
“Little Cayman airport is currently operating under an exemption of air worthiness,” Mr. Kirkconnell said. “There is going to be a point in time where we are not going to get another exemption. We have to move toward a solution.”
Neil van Niekerk, who runs the Southern Cross Dive Club in Little Cayman, welcomed the news. He said Little Cayman did not need a large-scale airport development, but there were practical issues with the existing site that needed to be resolved.
He said, “No one wants to see a huge expansion with jets coming into Little Cayman, but we could support a 20 percent increase in arrivals without ruining what we have here.”
He said a new airfield, with the capacity for slightly larger 25-seat planes, and the ability for aircraft to refuel on site would make a difference.
The fuel issue is potentially significant for scuba divers. Little Cayman, and its world famous Bloody Bay Wall, are a Mecca for divers.
But the requirement to carry extra fuel has led to tight weight restrictions that sometimes mean tourists’ dive bags are not carried on the same flight, meaning they could miss a day’s diving, said Mr. van Niekerk, who is also president of the Sister Islands Tourism Association.
The issues affecting the Little Cayman airfield were aired at length in a series of submissions to the Development Control Board earlier this year.
The land where the airfield is situated is owned by several different private landowners, and has been since the 1960s.
Two of those landowners had applied to create two new subdivisions on lots directly north of the runway.
According to minutes from a planning board meeting, James Ryan, whose father originally leased the land to Cayman Airways for the airfield, said the problem of the airport being located on private property was an issue that successive governments had ducked. He said it was not ideal to have cars driving across the runway to access private lots.
Civil Aviation Authority chief Richard Smith expressed concern about planned development near the airfield, warning that “the margin for safety is getting small as the immediate area develops.”
He suggested plans for a new airport, tabled just before Hurricane Ivan struck in 2004, be resurrected, according to the minutes.
Kerith McCoy, acting CEO of the airports authority, said at the meeting that 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 the neighboring 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.