Direct flights from Europe not currently needed, report says
An extension to the runway at Grand Cayman’s airport has been deemed unnecessary because the island does not currently need to focus on the United Kingdom and Europe as tourism markets.
A report by PwC suggests developing the runway – which would cost between $20 million and $40 million depending on the length of the extension – is not currently worth the expense.
Proposals to increase the runway size in order to accommodate direct long-haul flights from Europe have been discussed for more than a decade.
But the PwC report suggests there is enough untapped demand in the U.S. and Central America to fill available hotel space in Cayman without spending large sums to facilitate direct travel from Europe.
It also points out that no airline has committed to flying direct to Cayman and suggests that demand for the service does not currently exist.
The report states, “Based on consultation with the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, the Department of Tourism and private sector stakeholders, the tourism focus for the Cayman Islands remains North America, where the bulk of current visitors are sourced and where there remains significant untapped potential for route development. South America is also considered to be of growing importance.”
It says Caribbean destinations that cater to the U.K. and European tourism markets, such as Jamaica and Barbados, have a greater focus on, and room capacity for, mass packaged tourism. The report states, “It is unclear whether there would be sufficient demand to support frequent long-haul flights at present. The Department of Tourism noted that the Cayman Islands are probably at least 10-15 years off focusing on the U.K. and European markets.”
Despite that assessment, the consultants recommend that environmental and traffic impact studies on runway extension scenarios begin soon so that authorities can be prepared if and when the market changes.
It suggests two scenarios – an extension to 8,000 feet, which would involve rerouting Crewe Road and cost around $20 million, or an extension to 9,200 feet, which would involve an incursion into the North Sound and take the cost beyond $40 million.
The less expensive option would be enough to accommodate direct flights from British Airways’s new Boeing 777 planes assuming an 80 percent load factor – that is, a full load of passengers with cargo restrictions. Given the disruption to road traffic flow that this option would cause, the consultants point out detailed studies would be needed on how the road network could be reconfigured.
If airlines insist on a 100 percent load factor, things get more complex. The runway would need to be at least 9,200 feet, which would mean an eastward extension into the North Sound, with serious cost and environmental implications.
Technical consultants WSP Canada suggest, in their report accompanying the business case, that the environmental considerations are so complex that some initial studies should begin immediately. They also recommend traffic studies start now on the westward expansion, saying this would “permit the project to be executed efficiently in the future should it be triggered by a financially sound business opportunity.”
The PwC report also points out that the potential for expansion into European markets is limited by available accommodation.