Good news, good move, at Owen Roberts

Although it will arrive a little late for Christmas, the best gift travelers to the Cayman Islands may receive is the temporary extension to Owen Roberts International Airport.

Set to open by Jan. 5 — not in time for Boxing Day, but just in time for the start of Cayman’s busy tourist season — the pre-built structure will increase the area of the airport’s notoriously congested departure lounge by a blessed 3,600 square feet. The new extension will allow for the accommodation of 229 more passengers, create three new departure gates, and (the importance of which is not to be underestimated) add to the departure area’s bathroom inventory.

The current departure lounge has a maximum legal capacity of 556 people at any one time, a figure the new extension will increase by a significant 40 percent.

All in all, the solution, although it is a temporary one, is well worth the $300,000 investment by government — especially considered in the context of the government’s grand vision of redeveloping all three of Cayman’s airports, a major series of projects requiring the investment of some $90 million over the next 20 years.

Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO Albert Anderson said, “While it is not the perfect solution, at this time, it is a great temporary solution until we can fulfill our longer term goal.”

We agree. The routine, but extreme, overcrowding of Owen Roberts, particularly on Saturdays, is one symptom of the larger problem: Grand Cayman needs a bigger, more modern airport. While the temporary extension won’t go to the root of the issue, it should alleviate the immediate pain and discomfort currently suffered by hordes of outbound passengers.

So-called “Band-aid solutions” aren’t necessarily bad, as long as they are cost-effective and recognized as temporary fixes. In this case, the Owen Roberts extension appears to meet both criteria.

In the meantime, the Airports Authority is still pursuing the major redevelopment of Owen Roberts, which is operating at double its intended capacity of 500,000 passengers per year. The last we heard, officials were well into the process of procuring and selecting contractors and were still on track to begin construction next summer. The expansion, which would include a new terminal building and extended runway, could take up to three years to complete.

The good news is the Owen Roberts expansion effort is being driven by steadily growing numbers of stay-over visitors to Grand Cayman, meaning the government’s policies are being guided by market forces — not the other way around.

The overall airport expansion is a project the government is rightly pursuing in earnest, although it must explain how it is going to finance the project while adhering to the constraints on borrowing contained within the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility.

In light of U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday of the resumption of diplomatic relations between America and Cuba, the obvious wild card now looming over any discussion of long-term Cayman tourism is our communist neighbor to the north and how the opening up of Cuba might impact, or overwhelm, Cayman as a Caribbean tourist destination. Time will tell if that wild card turns out to be a trump or a deuce.

For the time being, however, Cayman officials’ decision to expand temporarily the Owen Roberts departure area should be lauded as the correct one, and will certainly be greeted with welcome relief by Cayman’s travelers in the new year.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now


  1. I too agree that this is a good move for the Owen Roberts Airport, money well spent.
    I also believe that if decisions are made to open Cuba, we will find that many tourist may want to take the travel through Cayman, because I am not sure if we will see American Airlines doing a rush in immediately. Anyway Cayman must be prepared this season and expanding the airport is a good start. Hopefully travelers will be complimented with good music to soothe the mind going and coming.

  2. I hate to disillusion you Twyla but American has had a scheduled service from Miami to Havana for years operating under the old arrangements.

    So far at least six other US carriers have already expressed interest in not only operating into Havana but also to some of the other nine international airports in Cuba under the revised travel rules.

    I’m reading far too many ‘head in the sand’ reactions to last week’s news. The harsh reality is that Cuba already has a well-established tourism industry that handles around 3 million visitors a year. They also have a workforce capable of building a 2300′ long deep-water container dock in less time than it took CIAA and CIG to get this temporary fix at ORIA organised.

    I believe once the restrictions come off completely US money will pour into Cuba and the Cubans will happily embrace (and probably come to dominate) the whole range of Caribbean tourist markets.

  3. As long as I have spent there I have never seen an aircraft marked American Airlines on the runway, and Cuba’s largest airports are in Havana
    So David, should I expect to hear you say shortly that you will give up Cayman and get residence in Cuba? I think that would be a good move.

  4. Twyla, the Havana flight numbers are AA9426/7, AA9440/1, AA9468/9, AA9450/1, AA9428/9 and AA9436/7 – they all operate to Terminal 2.

    AA also fly to Santa Clara – AA9434/5, AA9454/5 and AA9458/9.

    It’s all on the internet if you bother to look.

    As me living in Cuba? Why not, there won’t be much for me here in a few years time if attitudes like yours prevail.

  5. Not sure why Twyla would suggest David move to Cuba when he is merely stating some facts about the likelihood of the expansion of tourism in Cuba.

    And they are facts. Including the number of carriers that take accredited Americans to Cuba directly from Miami. Only Americans that lack the special permission of the US gov, or Cuban Americans that choose to visit more frequently than the present laws permit need to enter the country from Canada, Bahamas, Mexico, Panama, or Cayman.

    As a frequent visitor to both Cayman and Cuba, i can also state, and i thought it curious when i saw it… An American Airlines plane preparing for its scheduled departure from Terminal 2 at Havana Airport, taking on fuel!

  6. Paul go learn how to read, and David the first thing you should do is to follow your own mind in stead of being dragged around by Paul. I asked you David if you would be planning to give up Cayman and get residence in Cuba. Also suggested it would be good.
    So what is it that you are afraid of? It is simple yes that would be your plans or no. Una too hot, cant deal with una at all.

  7. In Twyla’s defense it does sound like she only asked a question, not made a suggestion So David, should I expect to hear you say shortly that you will give up Cayman and get residence in Cuba? .

    In Davids defense I think that most people that are consider Not Born Cayamanian are used to hearing things From Caymanians like go back to where you come from, if an opinion is stated or suggestion is made the usual type of response is you’re not even Caymanian as if our opinion doesn’t or shouldn’t matter. In a nutshell, no matter how much we Invest, contribute or even bring to Cayman we are used to being treated like Driftwood as so eloquently put by Mr Ozzie..

  8. Twyla, why not do us all a favour and simply admit that your original posting on this was just ill-informed nonsense?

    That’s what ex-pats like myself find so frustrating about these islands. People, particularly politicians and civil servants, spout complete rubbish and then get abusive if anyone dares to challenge them.

    You accused me of lying and you were wrong so you then tried to turn it into a personal issue about my status here.

    Let’s move on from that and worry about real issues like what will happen when Cuba opens up.

  9. David I do not have to do you any favor whatsoever, so please do not begin a battle with me, because trust me when I tell you that you will not win the war.
    Besides speaking about expatriates like yourself are frustrated because other people spout complete rubbish? My learned friend let me tell you something about how I feel about people like you. You ruin the lives of good expatriates who live here just because you think that money can buy everything. We do not have to fight verbally about Cuba, because your interest in Cuba is different from mine. Enjoy.