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.”