Missing links: New airport needs jetways

Last week, Premier Alden McLaughlin made a major announcement that the Progressives government will forge ahead with the cruise dock project in George Town harbor. Today, we’d like our readers to turn their attention to Grand Cayman’s “other” port project – the expansion of the Owen Roberts International Airport.

Officials formally broke ground on the $55 million airport project in mid-September. … But hold on a minute before take off. We know the shovels are already turning over dirt, but this project is not yet “shovel-ready.”

The missing piece of the airport project is, of course, proper jetways to protect our visitors (and residents) from the sun, heat and rain, and also to accommodate travelers who are weary, burdened with luggage, or unable to walk unassisted.

Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO Albert Anderson has explained that the government elected not to include jetways (also called boarding bridges) out of concern for costs.

We understand that the jetways aren’t cheap (the price tag to incorporate them into the building design is roughly $20.5 million), but in this instance, that would be money well spent. We therefore urge government – not to stop, pause or delay – but to pursue the Owen Roberts expansion in earnest, with jetways included. In brief, jetways should be classified as a “need,” not a “want.”

In the editorial that appeared in last Friday’s Compass, we outlined four general principles that should be followed in regard to the cruise port project. Those, we believe, are applicable to any major capital project, including the airport expansion.

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Those principles are: 1) speed, 2) quality, 3) financing, and 4) context.

In our opinion, the inclusion of jetways can (indeed, should) be done in furtherance of those principles.

The new airport design, while it does not include jetways, does not preclude the addition of jetways in the future. So let us speed up the future into the present, or at least bring our airport of the past into the modern age, and simply build the new airport with jetways, instead of holding out for the possibility of adding them at some later date. While it may take longer to complete a larger airport expansion, the addition of jetways need not “delay” the project.

We made a statement in Friday’s editorial in relation to the cruise dock project that holds true to the airport expansion: “When Cayman sets out to build something of this magnitude, especially in the tourism sector, it must be of the highest quality. Our country deserves nothing less than a world-class project, something that is not only eminently functional but also aesthetically pleasing.”

While our officials seem to have experienced “sticker shock” at the $20.5 million cost of jetways, we believe that, over the 20-year lifespan of the project, that amount, though significant, isn’t prohibitive. Surely our government can find those funds somewhere amid its $850 million-per-year budget. (One could, for example, subtract $1 million a year from the Cayman Turtle Farm’s $10 million annual subsidy … )

In the context of our stay-over visitors’ time in Grand Cayman, the airport is their first and last impression of our country. No matter how marvelous a trip a traveler may have in between, all that becomes somewhat sullied by inconvenience at the airport.

Not only should our tourists be looking forward to being in Cayman again, the prospect of transitioning to and from our country again should incite a similar sentiment of pleasant anticipation – as opposed to dread.

Impressions are important, and appearances are everything. Without jetways, a new airport appears to be an obviously unfinished and incomplete project.

(In a future editorial, we will address another critical transportation issue: the lengthening of the runway.)

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  1. You CANNOT expect to offer a 21st century up to date and technologically advanced airport without the addition of jetways. Here is another example of an island mentality that has fought forward thinking ideas and the Caymans of the future.Neglecting jetways is eliminating many tourists. Get smart

  2. @ Lukishi Brown

    London City Airport handles 3.6 million passengers (over three times as many as ORIA) a year without jet bridges and there are no plans to add them in the current expansion programme. Large international airports like Heathrow, Frankfurt and Hamburg use numerous remote stands and buses all year round with no problems. I have also walked out to flights at major UK airports like Glasgow and London Luton.

    I would say the island mentality is in believing that buying high-tech toys, which CIG cannot really afford, will somehow make ORIA a modern airport.

    The harsh reality is that putting four jet bridges in a relatively small airport potentially creates a lot more problems than it might solve. For instance what happens when more than four aircraft are on the apron at the same time or one of jet bridges breaks down?

    Whilst I will concede that ORIA needs to make urgent improvements to the facilities available for less mobile passengers installing jet bridges is a bit like cracking the proverbial walnut with a sledgehammer.

  3. No question about it, the new airport must have jetways to funnel air passengers into and out of terminal arrival and departure lounges. Jetways – disregarding the awfully inflated cost – are the only comfort lacking in the new airport and only with jetways in place will Caymans enter the 21st Century of air travel for the – hopefully – millions of tourists and businesspeople and Caymanians on their way to or from other world destinations. The cruise pier plans should be held in abeyance till Grand Cayman’s airport renewal project is completed.

  4. "The missing piece of the airport project is, of course, proper jetways to protect our visitors (and residents) from the sun, heat and rain, and also to accommodate travelers who are weary, burdened with luggage, or unable to walk unassisted." Are you serious? Based on the info I have seen it looks like the ingress/egress will be on the runway level. How would jetways help in that situation? As a frequent visitor I look forward to the first steps off the plane into the warm tropical weather. I’m not interested in a jetway. Give me the first (and last) breath of Caymanian air and bright sunshine – that and the people of Grand Cayman are why we keep coming back.

  5. I have been there close to a dozen times over the years. I like getting off the plane, having the warm sun in my face,listening to the island music which seems to always be playing live, seeing my first glimpse of the island and enjoying my walk to the terminal. It gives me the "Island Feel" if you will! I wouldn’t like it being commercialized like other airports.

  6. I agree with the intelligent and informed majority that jetways are just not practical for Owen Roberts.
    We need to concentrate on improving the departure area catering facilities,and the car park ticketing system, along with all the other enhanced passenger facilities that are planned.

  7. My opinion is that the airport do not need the jet ways, why do we have to have our airport like other airports. We need to look at the cost factors and benefits, do we have more rain, than sunshine? Who suffers from walking 2 minutes in the sunshine, only those that don’t want to be exposed to the sun and want the jet ways for Cayman airport.

  8. We have been coming to your beautiful island twice a year every year since 2004. There is nothing like having the door to the plane open and to smell that island air. It’s part of the Caribbean experience. Please … No jetways . The cost is ridiculous and I know when the day comes that I can”t get down the stairs myself, all those lovely people who wait at the bottom will help me.

  9. Here we go down the the road to bankruptcy smiling all the way. Why do we think that we have a money machine on hand that just prints money as we want it. Land tax and income tax will one day soon be apart of this spending addiction that Government has. They are going to need to find revue to feed the debt monster that no one seems to see but soon to be felt. 90 million for the airport and 225 million for the port on top of 700 million debt that we already have. Something is going to happen. Thanks PPM. You might not understand today but you will in 5 years time. You are going down a road that once traveled there is no exit or reverse. A debt ridden Government is a powerless one after you reach the threshold of no return when your financial hand become tied because you have reached your maximum debt capacity.

  10. Would it kind of be common sense to just include a few nice covered walkways from the plane that would protect people from the rain and sun and wouldn’t cost 20+ million dollars. I would think this along with a few mobile ramps to use when there are passengers in the need of assistance would do a great job.

    I get what people are saying about enjoying the Caribbean Sun when they get off the plane but I am sure they don’t feel the same way about being soaked by the rain which should be the primary concern and staff standing on the tarmac waiting with umbrellas doesn’t really do the job…

  11. As a tourist, I have flown into Grand Cayman each year since 2005. I am 73 but I still prefer the ramps to the "big airport" boarding equipment. I actually enjoy the sun and the heat as I go down the boarding ramp. I especially like the band that greets you before you enter the arrivals area. The big problem is the departure area which is too crowded. Also the runway needs a taxiway that parallels the runway lets incoming aircraft quickly clear the active runway.