Gimme shelter: Back to the drawing board

It’s raining as we write these words. Actually pouring. If we were getting off a plane at Owen Roberts International Airport, we’d be wet. Actually soaked. That’s because the current airport does not have jetways, which are boarding bridges that link planes to the terminal and spare travelers from the elements out on the tarmac.

Somewhat astonishingly, the plans for the new airport do not include jetways, either.

This, to us, appears to be a glaring error but, let’s be clear, it is not a design error (the architects were well aware of the shortcoming); it was a financial judgment error.

Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO Albert Anderson said jetways would just be too expensive – adding $20.5 million to the existing $46 million price tag. “This amounts to approximately 40 percent of our overall budget, and they do not address the main issue we have, which is terminal congestion,” he said.

Mr. Anderson, if we may: Certainly overcrowding is one of the issues, but it is far from the only issue at Owen Roberts. In fact, everything about the terminal – from the plumbing to the air conditioning – is antiquated and deteriorating.

Remember, our airport experience forms the first – and the last – impression our visitors have of the Cayman Islands.

To be sure, $20.5 million is a considerable sum, but compared to what? The nearly $1 billion in revenue Cayman will collect next year? The $10 million we will spend in the next annual budget to subsidize the Turtle Farm? The more than $100 million we spent on Clifton Hunter High School?

If the Airports Authority needs to rearrange the financing for the project (which will have a life expectancy of at least 20 years) in order to come up with the $66.5 million or so, then so be it.

Not only do jetways protect tourists from sun and storm, but they would also address a more fundamental problem – the current airport’s inability to accommodate the needs of people in wheelchairs or who otherwise have limited mobility. Cayman’s prevailing “sedan chair” approach, where airport employees carry people up and down the stairs, should not be our long-term solution.

This might also be a good time to mention that every flight that arrives at Owen Roberts contains passengers who struggle unsteadily to navigate the airplane gangplank – luggage roller in one hand, handbag or computer bag in the other (no hands left to grab the railing). May we suggest to Cayman Airways (and other carriers) that it would be a nice no-cost gesture to have their attendants keep an eye out for these struggling passengers and offer to help them with their bags.

When it comes to the Owen Roberts airport – the umbilical cord connecting our country to the rest of the world – we would dissuade the Airports Authority from opting for less expensive (and cheaper) “mobile solutions,” such as ramps and extendable corridors, in lieu of jetways, which are the standard for modern airports around the world.

Our initial impression of the overall “look” of the new airport is positive, and we have no issue waving goodbye to the waving gallery. We appreciate the sentiment for this welcoming incoming sight, but contemporary security regulations simply exclude such a nostalgic nicety.

And so, let’s make a good design even better. Let’s add the jetways, get back to the matter of extending the runway to accommodate longer-range aircraft, and let’s upgrade our airport infrastructure to truly “first class.”


  1. I certainly agree that we should go back to the drawing board in making a good design even better. Yes we should add the jet ways, extend the runway to accommodate longer-range aircrafts. We never know if one day one of those planes have to make an emergency landing, and what; we discover that our coat tail is too short. I say we stay first class on all things involving our airport and airplanes. Yes we may think that 20 mil. extra is a lot of money but we have to remember that we spent much more in areas where it was not needed. The airport restructuring is necessary, and keeping our planes well maintained is necessary, so my suggestion is go for it.

  2. I disagree with the necessity of jetways as I for one love exiting the confines of the jet into the beauty, sun, warmth and fresh Cayman air.
    The experience of exiting the jetway leaves me cold and is a sterile experience. The visitor could be anywhere as it is just another jetway.
    Keep the experience small and intimate and get rid of the machines for parking slips and replace them with smiling Caymanians.

  3. I have been traveling through ORIA for 30 years (driftwood comes and goes) and I remember only getting rained on once. Most of the tropical showers that move through Cayman are short lived. Maybe we are getting too used to going from our air conditioned houses to our air conditioned cars to our air conditioned offices. Open your windows and enjoy the Caribbean.

  4. With all that’s needed to bring Cayman’s Airport into the future it seem to me that it may just be best to build a new one and make a central park out of the existing airport when it closes..Were will an extended run go anyway.

  5. Mr. Tomlinson and Mr. Augsbury clearly have never been physically challenged nor traveled with someone who is physically challenged, and for that I am happy for them. But the truth is that air travel to and from the Cayman Islands for persons using wheelchairs and crutches is more than difficult–it is dangerous for everyone involved. Try showing up at Owen Roberts International Airport in a wheelchair and see how much you enjoy the experience.

  6. I have been a visitor to the Cayman Islands for more than 30 years, the last five in a wheelchair. I just request the naysayers about jetways borrow a wheelchair, get it to the top of the stairs to the plane door, then see how you go DOWN the stairs sitting in [email protected]! Enjoy.

  7. The problem with jetways is you don’t just bolt them onto the front of the terminal. You’d need to completely change the design and even then it would probably not be possible to connect to all the proposed eight stands.

    In order to install standard spec jetways the building will need two floors, which requires elevators and probably escalators. In fact the 20.5million figure quoted is probably an underestimate when you take into all the extra construction work involved.

    Consider this – London City Airport handles around 3.5million passengers a year and about 75,000 arrivals and departures without jetways. If they can do that in UK weather does ORIA really need them?

  8. The problem identified by Nav Fosse and J.D. Mosley-Matchett is one I am very familiar with because while still in her late-30s my late sister was confined to a wheelchair for the final four years of her life but still continued to travel regularly.

    The fact that ORIA has never invested in something like an Ambulift access vehicle or even adapted air stairs for wheelchairs is a disgrace but it’s still not justification for jetways because there are viable alternative options.

    Arguing that jetways should be put in to cater for people with physical limitations is ignoring a whole range of other tried and tested alternatives. Bear in mind that even going the jetway route would not be a complete solution because there will still be stands that cannot be accessed by jetways from the new terminal. What you could end up with is a virtual access lottery for passengers who need assistance.

    Surely it would be better to push for flexible solutions that can be used on all flights and start pushing for them to be introduced now rather than wait for the new terminal to be built? I’m sure the Compass would support this.

  9. 21st century solutions.

    PASSENGER LOADING SYSTEMS, BOARDING BRIDGES JETWAYS: Wheelchair Lift System;Disabled Passenger Vehicle;Electric-Powered Stairs;Radial Bridges,Over-The-Wing Passenger Boarding Bridge,Loading Bridge Canopies etc. support/passenger-loading-systems-boarding-bridges-jetways

    You can’t just ignore the needs of the Health City patients and other people with disabilities.

  10. The Jetways may very well be to expensive for Cayman right now, after all I am sure the Turtle Farm is a far more urgent need to the tone of 10 million a year for those complaining about the extra cost. It may also not be practical with the proposed design. I also understand the good feeling you get when you step out into the Cayman Sun and get the first wif of Mount Trashmore (LOL).

    The fact is that there are a lot of days when it rains terribly and then there’s those days when the sun is nearly unbearable and for travelers such as the elderly and handicapped it doesn’t matter how nice the weather is, it’s simply uncomfortable and unsafe to have to get down those stairs and make your way to immigration in the hot sun or the pouring rain.

    While Jet Ways may seem out of reach, a simple system of awning covered walkways and mobile covered ramps that can drive right up to the plane are no where near as expensive or out of reach and they would have a major positive impact on the experience of travelers not to mention that huge added safety factor for the elderly, handicapped and those with small children. It will also make it a lot easier for people to be able to roll their carry on down the ramp.

    Here’s few examples, I see no reason why something like this wouldn’t even work with the proposed design.

    Caymans decision makers need to be more practical and have creative thinking that is outside of the box, if you can’t do Jetways fine there are still other options for providing a better customer experience, why just discount them. However from what I have seen this does not appear to be something the CIG is capable of.

  11. This seems like another Government ‘bait and switch’

    Charge for tyre disposal and then try to sell off the tyres.

    If the new airport is designed to cope with a capacity of 2.7 million passengers annually, and there is a 13 dollar fee, that is 35 million or a payback for the WHOLE airport of just 2 years! So while a lot of money it is hardly expensive.

    In winter, many of Caymans airport arrivals have left temperatures below zero, a temperature difference possibly of over 100 degree’s. AC seems more important to those guys…

    I do however wonder if a new airport in the center of the island could address all the issues for way less money – especially compared to the costs and inconvenience of upgrading a running airport while it is in daily operation.

    The new police station is being built for less than the cost of the prime real-estate which the old one currently sits on – How many acres is the current airport – build a new one with a truly international size runway(s), solar powered terminal, Hurricane rated hangers that double as shelters.

    The airport is a flagship, it should not need to have international in its name, it should state, forcefully, First World Financial centre of excellence and Caribbean Paradise.

    It should IMPRESS!

  12. Without doubt, the most scary experience as witness I’ve faced in Grand Cayman is to watch from the observation deck my elderly mother, with her cane and carry-on luggage, walking down the airplane stairs.

    I still shiver when I think of the scene.

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