Short-term thinking: Short runways, no jetways

When it comes to Owen Roberts International Airport, we are uncomfortable with an “economy-class renovation” in our “first-class destination.”

We refer, of course, to our current $55 million airport redevelopment plan that does not include passenger boarding bridges, aka jetways, which in modern airports are considered usual and ordinary, not amenities or luxuries.

In lieu, officials are resorting to “Plan B” (as in “Band-Aid”): rolling ramps and accordion-style “box tunnels” to give travelers basic shelter from our storms.

Ostensibly this plan will save $20 million in construction costs, however, in the context of the 20-year lifespan of the project, we believe building the jetways is both desirable and affordable. (Consider, for example, that the missing $20 million is less than the government spends to subsidize Cayman Airways for one year, or the Cayman Turtle Farm for two years. We are even contemplating spending more than that on the highly questionable exercise of relocating coral away from the footprint of the proposed cruise port project.)

To us, this is a perfect project for some amalgam of a public/private partnership. Might our tourism and financial industries step forward with funds or financing expertise to make the jetways feasible? Perhaps it is an inaugural project for Bo Miller’s much-touted “infrastructure fund.”

This is not only an issue of practicality — as in, pampering our tourists with “CaymanKindness” from the moment their plane touches down to the moment of departure — but, perhaps even more importantly, of image. Yes, technically speaking, ramps, newspapers (don’t use the Compass!), umbrellas and/or vinyl coverings “will do” to keep tourists’ heads dry as they race, hobble or wheel across the tarmac. But do we really want to do that?

In a communication yesterday to the Compass, former Minister Linford Pierson wrote:
“I understand that ‘jetways’ are not being included, because Government/CIAA cannot find an additional $20 million to provide this essential facility. If this is, indeed, the case, I sincerely hope that they will reconsider their priorities, as the health, safety, and convenience of the travelling public should be a top priority. It is my view, that the redevelopment of ORIA can hardly be considered complete (with strict safety requirements), in the absence of ‘jetways’.”

For a mere $1 million per year over the lifespan of the project, the government is choosing to pursue an airport project that will send the message that the Cayman Islands almost ranks among the top tourism destinations in the world. Such a characterization is out of character for our country.

In the history of the modern world, there is one recurring urban planning truism: Great cities are port cities.

Though Grand Cayman draws much of its cultural identity from the water which surrounds it, at this and future stages of our island’s development, our airport outranks our seaport in importance.

What is conspicuously missing from the redevelopment plan is a longer runway to accommodate longer flights (bigger aircraft) from European centers and beyond. Officials defend that decision, saying they have received no assurances from airlines that they would bring longer direct flights to Cayman if the longer runway were to be built.

That’s hardly surprising. Why would an airline commit years in advance to a such a hypothetical?

And then, along with any airport redevelopment, we would urge a concerted effort to beautify the corridor that carries tourists from the airport to Seven Mile Beach. Think of Industrial Park, the unsightly Harquail Bypass, and the (pick your own adjective) George Town landfill. A first-class country must not project a Third World image.

We don’t want to appear (or sound) overly negative. We applaud our government (especially Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell), the Airports Authority, and the architects and others who have championed this project and brought it to groundbreaking.

We have no doubt the newly renovated airport will be a very good airport. But it has the potential to be an even greater airport with jetways. Let’s go back to the drawing board (the financial drawing board, that is), and find $20 million.


  1. It”s time for the Cayman Compass to "give it up". Jet ports are not only unnecessary but they also detract from the Cayman Caribbean atmosphere when an incoming passenger steps off the plane. There is nothing nicer than taking your 1st breath of fresh warm air and hearing the Caribbean music as you walk to the terminal. Sure they are necessary in cities like NY and Boston because the weather there can be horrible – slush, snow and cold rainy days! They are not necessary in Cayman and if this paper or anyone thinks the lack of jetports will make people think lesser of Cayman, I believe they are mistaken.

  2. I think it”s high time the Editorial Board come out from behind their smokescreen and run in the next election, as they seem to think they can run this country better than anyone else.

  3. Maybe, maybe not.

    Initially I was really for the jetways for the airport. Now, I am not so sure.

    On a personal note, I must admit that because of arthritis in both knees, the jetway ramps would be a wonderful help. But on the other side of the coin, I do admit the the cost of such ramps is astounding. So, I do not know that they are worth the cost.

    Recently the idea of other means of ingress/egress was mentioned. (some type of portable ramps) Perhaps they may be a good alternative, but such access devices should be explained and certainly explored.

    However, I must say that the COMPASS continues to tout Cayman as a first class destination. Well, folks, as a person who has travelled the world, I must say it is not. It is a beautiful place with some very nice people. but actually I would rate it as second class. Nothing to be ashamed about, but certainly not first class.

    There are many, many things that are nice about Cayman, all attractive to those of vacation. But the government seems to forget about many of the necessities that make Cayman a first class country to live in. There is a wonderful opportunity to make Cayman truly a first class country, and because of its size and low density (nationwide) it could easily happen. All the government needs to do is to take a look at how Dart operates, how that private company creates jobs, how is manages construction and its budgets, and it might find an answer.

  4. If you decide to edit comments, particularly those that are critical of your editorials, then you should either indicate they have been edited (to your satisfaction), or not publish them at all.
    This is a one way street at present and readers have absolutely no way of knowing how you have manipulated comments, not only where possibly libelous statements have been made which would be justifiable, but also to protect your own interests where criticism is involved.

  5. I do not always agree with the Cayman Compass Editorial Board. However, I find it difficult to disagree with the common sense approach taken by them in their editorial aptly captioned: "Short-term thinking: Short runways, no jetways".

    whilst I respect the democratic rights of all to express our views, especially on matters of this importance, I nonetheless believe that there is very little (if any basis) to launch a credible opposition to this editorial. However, for those who may need to be reminded: Cayman is indeed a "first-class destination"–not a "third-world destination". In this connection, I believe that the Editorial Board succinctly and intelligently articulated, inter-alia, the need for jetways. I, too, hope that Government/CIAA will go back to the drawing board and find the $20 million for the needed jetways; they are not a luxury–they are a necessity.

  6. Sadly, the main part of this editorial makes the fundamental mistake of forgetting that, despite the international title, ORIA is actually nothing more than a small regional airport. In fact the annual pax movements are less than one-third of London City Airport and just over half the figures at Southampton Airport, where I worked for two years. Neither of those airports has jetways and trust me weather conditions in the UK are a lot tougher than here.

    The reason you do not put jetways in small airports is very simple – it makes the facility very vulnerable to technical problems. If ORIA had four jetways and one packed up that is 25 percent of your main gate capacity out of action with the nearest source of spares and technical support probably being in the USA. A major airport has all this on-site, up to and including complete spare jetways – ORIA cannot have that.

    Jetways create a choke point in the passenger management system, if they fail and you do not have proper back up the airport ends up in chaos. As one expert in field commented to me – you end up herding cats.

    As for the runway extension? I am sure there are plenty of people who remember the 2006/7 fiasco when the cricket pitch was going to be moved and the road re-routed. At the time one senior civil servant told me they even had a site for the new cricket pitch. The problem was, and still is, that we do not have hotels that fit the needs of the UK/European tourism market. I will avoid getting into details of the reasons for that but, if certain negotiations in 2005/6 had been properly conducted, a major UK tour operator would probably now be flying at least one Boeing 767 into ORIA every week. In order to get this business DoT needs to get its head around the sensibly-priced all-inclusive holiday business because that is the only thing that will attract more direct flights from the UK and Europe. Without that you can build a runway capable of taking 747s and they still will not come.

    Ultimately, what this editorial illustrates is the dangers of people who have no understanding of either aviation or tourism lobbying for change in these fields.

    @Michael Davis

    I’ve had experience of dealing with a relative who was wheelchair bound for the last four years of their life. Jetways were a far from ideal for their needs. The best solution proved to be a combination of a lift from the aircraft and ground transportation.

    What this debate over jetways is effectively doing is diverting attention from the fact that ORIA is not currently addressing mobility issues and that is something the Compass should be lobbying CIG about.

  7. I have to agree with David Williams. At least partly.

    No to jetways for the reasons he has given.

    But yes to longer runways that would take bigger aircraft. But remember that one will need to scale up the immigration and baggage hall.

    The worst impression for any arriving traveler is waiting an hour plus to get through immigration. Especially if one has just endured a 10 hour flight from Europe.
    Perhaps part of the immigration process could be automated with machines reading the passports, as happens in the USA and UK?

  8. $20 million for jetways based on what. Whose bids,and what does it include. I don’t believe the estimate for one minute. Stop comparing ORIA to Heathrow. There is no comparison. Jetways are a necessary convenience for the public at large. They will never be figured into any budget down the road. Who’s kidding who. Travelers have a right to be sheltered; handicapped and elderly have a right to disembark from a plane comfortably with dignity and respect. Again I say, get other bids for the jetways. The suggestion of accordion big box store warehouse lifts is ridiculous,and dangerous.

  9. The fact is, ORIA is an International Airport. Whether or not some of our residents may wish to classify ORIA as a ”small regional airport” is unimportant and somewhat facetious. Size has nothing to do with such designation. The only thing that makes an airport an international airport (as opposed to a regional airport) is the present of customs and immigration facilities at the airport–if it has these facilities (as ORIA has) it can rightly be designated an international airport.

    As someone who has travelled extensively (including to the UK on many occasions), I do not, for example, consider London Heathrow international airport to be an exemplar for emulation by ORIA. Compared with the facilities available at the Hong Kong International Airport, Heathrow airport could well be considered a ”regional airport”; yet the land mass of the UK is considerably larger than Hong Kong, but like Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands is a first-class destination.

    Further, I’ve seen comparisons frequently drawn between what obtains in the UK, compared with the Cayman Islands. However, it should become abundantly clear to those residents in the Cayman Islands, from the UK or other developed countries, that they are now residing in the Cayman Islands. In this connection, please allow me to quote from one of my UK Professors, during my studies there: "Not everything manufactured in the UK is fit for export to other countries". Therefore, let us all endeavour to keep the Cayman Islands on the trajectory of becoming a leading international ”first-class destination”, notwithstanding its relatively small size.

  10. I have been coming to the Cayman Islands for many years and after I was able I bought a condo for my family and friends to better enjoy the island.
    The issue of the jetways is secondary. The coolest thing is stepping off the plane and going down the steps with all the friendly smiles and heading into customs.
    The biggest problem for travelers is not the lack of jetways but:
    1. The pathetic restrooms after being packed like cattle in a plane for several hours.
    2. The wait to get through passport stamping and luggage claim.
    Remember everyone is coming here to see the island and enjoy the beaches and reefs. Time is at a premium once you land. Get us a restroom and hurry us through – we want to go to the beach.
    I have sent many friends and relatives to our condo. I have never heard a complaint about the airport except for the two items I listed above. Fix those items and watch the tourists spend their money.

  11. I’ve been looking into redevelopment plans for MWCR (Owen Roberts Int’) for more than 5 years. The master plan that presented some few months ago, I think about a year now by WS&P is a 75% rip off if not more of plans that I created 5 years go. Anyway in both plans both mine and WS&P we put in the ideas of "jet bridges" amongst other things and if people read it this picture will be cleared out.

    Ok let’s put this to rest once on for all shall we;

    In the WS&P document it discusses the option for jet bridges

    There are three type each with its own price tag:

    A portable covered ramp (10, 1 for each gate) $1Mil.
    A single story jetway (10,1 for each gate) $12Mil.
    2 story fully hydraulic jetway (10,1 for each gate $20Mil.

    In the plans that I created the prices at today’s value (2015) it’s relatively the same.

    Now we may not be able to get the 2 story jetways at $20Mil for 10 at this time. Getting the very cheap portable ramp at $1Mil right now seems no brainer but the ramps will need replacing every few years thus costing more, also when it come time to upgrade to 2 story jetways the transition will be harder and cost a ton more. Now here is the wild card the single story jet bridges are almost half of the cost of the 2 story bridges they will last a lot longer than the portable ramps thus cutting replacement cost and when it comes time to upgrade the bridges to the 2 story the transition will be easier than knotting a tie not to mention amusingly cheaper.

  12. Now my eye and ears in the planning meetings of MWCR (Owen Roberts) redevelopment

    The runway/taxiway/Aprons project is separate from the terminal project

    In terms of the runway/taxiway/Apron project it will be done at 3 stages and these three stages are activated based on timetable and demand.

    Stage One– Very slight extension on the runway mostly reinforcements and reinforcements on aprons this will allow Boeing 777-300ER with weight restrictions to land and take off. Stage one is Short term, and should be worked on and finished as soon as possible likely due to British Airways retiring all there 767 in the fleet some time in 2016 and replacing them with the 777-200, 777-300ER, and 787 Dreamliner. *Side note: as far as I’m aware currently the runway can handle 777-200 with weight restrictions but can’t handle the 300ER or bigger aircraft.

    Stage Two– Runway extension on Runway 08 (West side) closer to current airport fence with slight widening also further reinforcements of the apron and widening of the taxi shoulders. This should allow the 777-300ER and also the Airbus A330 to fly with almost no weight restrictions. This could possibly allow Airbus A340 to land and take off with some weight restrictions as well as Boeing 787 Dreamliner with some weight restrictions. Also possibly a partial parallel taxiway from runway end 26 (East side) to terminal. Stage two is short to medium term. *Side note: with current Runway an Airbus A330 can take off and land with weight restrictions but it’s very tight in current taxiways and in Apron and parking is very tight. Perfect example was a Qatar Airlines A330 that made a short stop at Owen Roberts either on the 23rd or 24th of December 2012, didn’t do too badly on the runway but it was a tight squeeze in the taxiway coming up in the apron and had to take up two gates to fit the aircraft.

    Stage 3– Extension for the Runway 08 (West side) across the current Crewe road and across to the cricket oval and airport fence pushed back across Huldah Avenue and smith road and Crewe road rerouted to the roundabout that connects Huldah, Elgin, and Thomas Russell avenue. Also widening of the runway, taxiways, apron as well as build a full parallel taxiway. This should allow A330 and A340 to land and take off with little or no weight restrictions and A350 to land and take off with some weight restrictions as well as Boeing 787 Dreamliner with little or no restrictions and possibly Boeing 747 up to 747-300 with weight restrictions. Stage 3 is medium to long term. *Side note: there is a runway extension possibility on 26 (East side) but that requires building into the North Sound and would be considered in the much longer term.

  13. Now in terms of other Airlines eventually make moves towards flight to the Cayman Islands or adding long haul flight using bigger aircraft

    British Airways stated that they will bet retiring the Boeing 767 for 777-200, 777-300ER, and 787 Dreamliners in 2016

    Virgin Atlantic and Boss Sir. R. Branson stated that he wanted his Airline to Fly to Grand Cayman if the Cayman Islands can provide the space and logistics for his Aircraft. Note Virgin Atlantic uses Airbus A340 and Boeing 747 amongst other large aircraft.

    I think it was Qantas Airlines wanted to take on more trips to the Caribbean from Australia and I’m sure Cayman Islands could be one of their future Caribbean stops if Cayman can provide the facilities

    And I’m sure if we ask other airlines if they would want to come to the Cayman Islands providing the airport can have the proper facilities for example South African Air, Lithuania, Thompson, easy jet, Air Japan. I’m confident they may just say yes.