Departures lounge opens as airport takes shape

Along the boarded walkways that lead passengers through Cayman’s airport, a sign asks for travelers’ patience with the ongoing construction work.

“Excellence takes time,” it says.

While traveling through the Owen Roberts International Airport seems, at times, like walking through a building site, the pieces of the jigsaw are starting to fall into place.

The opening of the new departure lounge this week was another major milestone in the three-year, multimillion dollar redevelopment project.

Though the terminal remains a work in progress, with the signature entrance arches currently under construction, airports boss Albert Anderson believes the project is now on the home stretch.

He is confident it will be completed by Christmas.

Mr. Anderson acknowledged there had been budget overruns, which he attributed to a mix of unforeseen problems and additional features added to the design.

He said the project would likely be around 10 percent over budget once complete.

“We are going to go past $55 million. I don’t have a fix yet on how much that is because we are still negotiating some of the changes with the contractors,” he said.

He said the additional costs were necessary and would come out of the Cayman Islands Airports Authority’s budget. The project is being funded through a mix of CIAA revenues, collected through a passenger facilities charge levied on every airport user, and a government cash injection.

There are now two security lines and nine gates open in the new departures lounge. Once it is complete, there will be six security lines and 11 gates.

The tender process to find the businesses to fill 18 slots for restaurants, cafes, duty-free and other shops is still ongoing.

Even with significant work still to be done, the portion of the departures lounge now in use is already larger than the old departures area.

Keeping the airport running smoothly as the work continues has been challenging, officials admit.

“This whole process has been an exercise in operational dexterity,” said Mr. Anderson.

“Every week, we have to move something to keep the contractors working. From here on, rather than constricting space, we will start to expand again.”

He said the feedback from the traveling public had been very good and the lines of frustrated passengers seen at the start of the year had been brought under control. By December, when high season kicks in again, he is confident there will be no similar complaints.

“A lot of people don’t realize we haven’t finished yet. Immigration isn’t what it is going to be; the departures lounge isn’t what it is going to be at the end; check-in is going to be bigger. People say to me sometimes, ‘Are you sure you built it big enough?’ I’m confident we did.”

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