Airport bosses unveiled the first element of the facility’s $55 million upgrade Friday, and then targeted completing the job by next Christmas.
Until now much of the work taking place on Owen Roberts International Airport has been going on behind the scenes.
That changed last week, with the opening of a new wing to the check-in area.
Southwest Airlines, British Airways and American Airlines were the first to move into their new home.
Passengers pass under an eye-catching cantilevered arch to enter the new building, which adjoins the old check-in area.
Albert Anderson, CEO of the Cayman Islands Airports Authority, said the opening of the new wing, the first part of the airport expansion open to the public, was a major milestone.
He said, “It is not as significant for us, because we have watched it coming out of the ground, but for passengers coming in for the first time, it has a huge impact. We are very proud of it.”
He said travelers could expect similar unveilings every few months over the next year as the airport is completed, piece by piece.
Next will be the new arrivals area, opening in January. The temporary departure area expansion will come down in February. Then the wall between the departure lounge and the current customs and immigration area will be demolished as work takes place to combine the two halls.
“There is going to be a bit more impact on travelers but hopefully they will be able to see what is happening around them and see that real progress is being made,” Mr. Anderson added.
He said businesses applying for space in the revamped departure lounge should find out by the end of the year if they had won bids to be involved.
Once complete the new airport will be able to handle 2.5 million passengers per year, more than double the 1.2 million that currently use the facility annually.
Persistent concerns about congestion and overcrowding have dogged the airport for years.
But Mr. Anderson said complaints have diminished as passengers see the work in progress.
By next Christmas, he said, the new airport would be substantively complete and those issues would be a thing of the past.
“When we built the original airport we said we would never fill it up, so you never know what will happen in the future,” he added.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said it was exciting to see passengers actually able to use part of the new airport.
“We are going over 400,000 tourists for the first time in history so it is very timely.
“It is a great feeling to walk in here and see the difference. It is the first time the country really sees what this airport is going to be. You really start understanding how much bigger, how much more current it is going to be.”
He said the $55 million project was on time and on budget and would deliver an airport fit for Cayman’s travel and tourism needs.