Wearing hard hats and wielding golden shovels, the governor, premier and others broke ground Thursday on the Owen Roberts International Airport expansion.
Government signed the initial $3.6 million construction contract with Arch & Godfrey earlier this week to start work on the first phase of the $55 million project. The airport will be enlarged from 77,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet, with opening expected by the end of 2018.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, speaking to about 80 people assembled under a tent outside the airport late Wednesday morning, said, “Modern infrastructure is important to business,” pointing to an almost 11 percent increase in air arrivals last year.
He said he expects the number of people passing through the airport to increase each year as new hotels open with more rooms for tourists. The current airport was designed to handle about 500,000 passengers each year, but today it handles double that, according to Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell.
The groundbreaking speeches quickly turned to politics when Mr. McLaughlin said the Peoples Progressive Movement, the premier’s party, made the airport renovation a priority before it came into power in the last election. He said several administrations tried to get a new airport in the works, “but this administration got it started.”
The process for procurement on such a big project and getting the contracts signed, he said, “is long, frustrating and often tedious.” But, the premier noted, the committee in charge of the project is “getting it done right and by the book.”
The tourism minister, when he took the podium at the ceremony, echoed Mr. McLaughlin’s remarks. Mr. Kirkconnell said, “There have been no shortcuts and no sidesteps” in planning, designing and, starting now, construction of the airport expansion.
The minister said Cayman relies on tourism for employment to grow its economy.
“Overcrowding at the airport in some ways has been a good problem,” he said, adding that the country has “no choice” but to expand the primary gateway for most stay-over tourists entering the country.
“When people are satisfied and have a good experience, they come back,” he said. “For growth to be sustainable, it has to go hand in hand with infrastructure improvements.”
Albert Anderson, CEO of the Cayman Islands Airport Authority, said the first phase is “a relatively small piece” and will take about six months. The first part of the project involves a new facility for outbound, checked bags; offices; and some other parts of the behind-the-scenes operations in any airport.
The second phase, slated to start March 2016, will include a new check-in area and departure lounge, expanding the building and renovating the existing structure, Mr. Anderson said.
He gave a word of caution to passengers using the airport in the coming years, saying it “may be challenging for passengers to navigate” their way through the airport as temporary walls will zone off construction work and passengers will have to make their way around the areas where crews are working.
Mr. Anderson asked for understanding during the construction over the next couple years, as the renovation and expansion, he said, will be “the catalyst for moving our airport from good to great.”