The $55 million project to expand the terminal at Grand Cayman’s central airport is beginning to take off following the recruitment of an American design and cost consulting firm.
RS&H consultants signed a deal with the Cayman Islands Airports Authority last week to draw up plans for the expansion, which will more than double the capacity of the building.
The consultants will also be responsible for keeping the project – financed largely through passenger charges levied by the authority – on time and on budget.
Construction is scheduled to begin in September, following a competitive tender process. A separate project, also slated to get under way this year, will reinforce the runway to allow British Airways’ newer Boeing 777 jets to land at the airport.
There will be no extension to the runway, however.
Albert Anderson, CEO of the airports authority, said that after decades of discussion about expanding the Owen Roberts International Airport, the much-needed project is finally starting to happen.
“People see that something really has to be done because the airport is bursting at the seams. It is not a pleasant experience to go through this experience at peak periods. I am very optimistic that we will get this going.”
The terminal expansion is expected to take around four years to complete.
Mr. Anderson said the relatively long timetable is inevitable because of the need to keep the airport functioning for the million-plus visitors who pass through every year.
Once the terminal is complete, it will have capacity for some 2.5 million passengers.
Though precise designs have not yet been drawn up, some key decisions have been made. The building will be expanded outward rather than upward, as envisioned in previous plans.
The business case for the project dismissed the idea of boarding bridges as too expensive – a decision which Mr. Anderson said made it more practical to keep departure and arrival areas at ground level.
The upper floor will include expanded retail and restaurant concessions, which the CIAA hopes will provide an ongoing source of revenue. The completed terminal will contain much larger departure and arrival lounges, as well as expanded immigration and customs areas and additional check-in gates. Ultimately, there will be 10 boarding gates.
Mr. Anderson said the U.S. firm was selected following a tender process that initially included nine firms. He said no local firms qualified due to the specific expertise required for the job.
RS&H has experience in designing and managing airport construction projects across the U.S., he said, adding that the firm would work in partnership with local design firms. The construction work could be done by a Caymanian company, he added.
“I can think of at least three companies that have the expertise to do it,” he said. “It will go out to tender, probably in April, and the winning bidder will be selected.”
Financing for the project will come primarily from the authority’s coffers – principally the passenger facilities charge of $13 levied on each passenger.
One obstacle highlighted by consultants in the business case was a backlog of unpaid bills owed by Cayman Airways. At the time of the report, the airline owed $10.5 million in charges it had collected from passengers on behalf of the CIAA but had not passed on to the airports authority.
Mr. Anderson said a plan is in place to deal with the debt, and that the national airline has begun to pay back the money.
Even so, the fact that the project is being financed from annual revenues rather than through up-front financing threatens to prolong the time of construction and add to the cost.
“Based on our cash flow alone, it would take seven to eight years to complete the terminal expansion, which would add to the cost significantly,” he said.
But he said government, in its strategic policy statement, has committed $15 million, which will allow the terminal to be completed within the four-year time frame.