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.