Airport development moves a step closer

Business case will outline scope, size of project

Grand Cayman’s airport is aged, congested and increasingly unable to cope with passenger levels that are already double the intended capacity, according to a document outlining the case for a multimillion-dollar expansion. 

Long-discussed plans to develop all three Cayman Islands’ airports took a significant step forward this week with the publication of the strategic outline case – the first step in a lengthy procurement and accountability process required for major public infrastructure projects. 

The next phase is the production of a business case, which will involve a cost/benefit analysis on various options for the airport, including a new terminal building and expanded runway. The business case will compare the economic impact of various options for all three airports, including simply leaving them as they are, to determine the exact scope and size of each project. 

The Cayman Islands Airports Authority is inviting consulting firms to bid for the contract to produce the business case, the prelude to a competitive bid for the design and construction work. 

The document will also assess whether the project can be financed from the CIAA coffers or if a public/private partnership is required. 

The strategic outline, published Thursday, argues for an upgrade at the Owen Roberts International Airport, warning that the Cayman Islands is not “maintaining its competitive edge” compared to neighboring tourist destinations. 

It adds: “The growth in passenger numbers over the years has meant that the existing capacity of the airport is inadequate. The provision of an expanded terminal and associated infrastructure is consequently overdue. 

“The airport terminal reflects a combination of aged and cramped facilities and a severely congested and uncomfortable environment, providing a poor level of service to travelers passing through the airport.” 

It adds that expanding the runway to accommodate long-haul flights should be considered, as well as the addition of boarding bridges, which would improve “passenger experience” for an expected increase in ill or disabled travelers to the Health City medical tourism facility. 

The potential value of other add-ons, such as a U.S. border control pre-clearance area and an expanded apron to accommodate additional aircraft parking space, will also be reviewed by the consultants. 

The strategic outline points out that there is a “lack of projections for future passenger, aircraft and cargo movements to assist with determining the scope of project needed,” though it does not specifically request that this be part of the business case. 

The model for financing the development, given government’s mandated borrowing limits, will likely involve a private sector partner, though the strategic outline leaves the door open for the CIAA to finance the project through increased passenger facility charges. 

The CIAA will not cede control of the airport to a private partner in any development agreement, the document states. 

“Due to the importance of the airport as a strategic national asset, the CIAA will retain the legal ownership and operations. Any financial model chosen for procurement will include consideration of that requirement against the need to provide assurance and security to a private sector investment partner.” 

The document details the importance of the tourism industry as a pillar of Cayman’s economy. It points out that although only a fifth of visitors to the island arrive by air, they contribute 77 percent of total annual tourism revenue – nearly $300 million. 

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said developing all three airports is key to maintaining the Cayman Islands’ status as a top class tourist destination. 

“A number of benefits will accrue from the projects,” he said. “The construction and development phases, followed by fully operational facilities will generate additional jobs. More importantly, it will deliver significant economic benefits to the islands, notably improving public revenue and raising the gross domestic product from increased visitor arrivals.” 


  1. Why don’t we build a proper brand new airport further east. Like somewhere in the middle of the island. Then make it 12 feet above sea level ? Maybe close to some of those quarries outside of Bodden town ?? All that infrastructure could be concluded in a shorter amount of time because of location. The equipment is right there shorter space from land moving equipment already near the quarries . Cheaper because of distance. Roads going through could be upgraded to 6 lanes to East End. Safer flight approach ,away from major residential areas. Then don’t forget the approach near Esso and now Rubis terminals . The schools are so close to the approach also. Plus room for expansion??? Just a thought

  2. David Miller has nailed it,

    A significant amount of the cost of upgrading the airport would be because the airport had to keep functioning. The safety and security implications alone would give anyone nightmares.

    Start fresh on a clean site and not only would you save money, it would be a much better experience for the tourists not having to negotiate a ‘building site’ after a long haul flight. The benefit to Georgetown of no planes flying directly overhead would be dramatic and the real estate implications of liberating valuable land close to the capital when the old airport closes would offset the expenditure.

    Build the Hangars 12′ above sea level too, and such that they could double as a hurricane shelter.

    There has been talk of pedestrianizing Georgetown… Maybe a fast efficient elevated railway – like Londons’ Docklands Light Railway – could whisk air travellers to and from the Capital (above the traffic at 50 miles an hour) and also allow residents and workers to ‘Park and Ride’, revitalising Georgetown and cutting noise and pollution. Might sound expensive but the benefits of moving Airports as far away as possible from population centers and then connecting with a fast efficient mass transit system have been proven around the world.

    This is a classic 80:20 rule – 80 percent of revenue coming from 20 percent of ‘customers’ so if we could either double air passengers OR double Cruise traffic, the choice is clear – airport improvements could yield 300M a year but cruise terminals only a third of that… (Ideally you do both but if budget constraints are an issue then Airports gets you more bang for your buck).

    All the customers for the new hotels won’t be arriving by sea…

  3. east makes even more since with the shetty hospital coming no since in having patients coming or leaving after surgery to have to go so far to the airport with it in the east a medical shuttle service could get them there quickly. Another thing good about that is the area is way less populated and would have less impact on the north sound which correct the if im wrong but the expanded Airport would need to go into some.

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