Boarding ramps and portable “box tunnels” will be used at the Owen Roberts International Airport as an alternative to the passenger boarding bridges, left out of the $55 million redevelopment plan for Grand Cayman’s airport.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said Friday there were no immediate plans to add boarding bridges, known as jetways, which he said would cost an additional $20m.
Mr. Kirkconnell, answering questions the Legislative Assembly from former Premier McKeeva Bush, said the option to add jetways remained part of the overall master plan for Grand Cayman’s airports and may be possible at a later date. But he said the immediate priority, with the funds available, was the expansion of the severely overcrowded terminal building.
He acknowledged that jetways added an extra level of convenience for the elderly and for medical tourists.
He said, “Given the affordability constraints and the fact that jetways do not contribute to any of the needs priorities, they are not currently included in the terminal plan, although it is recognized they do represent benefit for visitors in terms of convenience.”
He added, “Provision has been made to add them at a later date as funds become available.”
As an interim measure, he said Cayman Airways has purchased boarding ramps for elderly and disabled passengers and the Cayman Islands Airports Authority is looking at purchasing “box tunnels” – expandable, vinyl coverings – to protect passengers from the rain.
He said the cost of the boarding ramps was $50,000 for the jets, and $25,000 for the Saab aircraft, scheduled to be used on the Cayman Brac commuter route.
He said adding capacity for jetways – elevated boarding bridges which allow passengers to walk directly from the plane to the arrivals hall – would involve additional costs associated with adapting the terminal building to facilitate passenger arrivals on the upper floor.
“The scale of the cost is completely different,” he said.
Another idea that remains off the agenda for the airport redevelopment, at least for now, is extending the runway to facilitate long haul flights. Fielding questions from Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, Mr. Kirkconnell said there were significant environmental and logistical constraints to any runway expansion.
He said the runway, at its current length, was sufficient for all the planes coming into the island.
“No airlines have currently indicated a future commitment to long haul routes, particularly out of Europe,” he added.
Mr. Bush said he was unimpressed with the airport plans. He told the Cayman Compass he did not believe that proper jetways would cost as much as $20 million.
He believes government needs to look again at the airport plans.
“I think we need to plan for the future. This town can’t be revitalized the way it should be if they don’t have a proper airport. We need to provide the same level of service as other countries are doing.”
Mr. Bush believes a more radical plan is needed, including building an entirely new airport, elsewhere on the island and using the current site for the expansion of George Town.