With the new Owen Roberts International Airport terminal set to have its grand opening on March 27, government is planning the next upgrade at the facility: the lengthening of the runway, which will allow for larger planes and longer flights.

The Cayman Islands Airports Authority issued a request for contractors to bid on extending the runway up to 900 feet to just under 8,000 feet in total length. The runway extension had been left out of the original airport expansion plan – a project that now is estimated to cost at least $64 million due to delays and overruns – and could cost another $20.5 million or more.

Making the runway 900 feet longer would entail extending it west toward Crewe Road and removing the ponds and navigational equipment in that area. A jet blast deflector wall would also be built between Crewe Road and the airstrip.

Additionally, at the northeast end of the airport, the east apron would be expanded and drainage improvements would be made.

The 2014 CIAA airports “master plan” estimates that extending the runway to 8,000 feet and strengthening the pavement to support heavier aircraft would cost $20.5 million.

That master plan, drafted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the WSP Group, lays out three alternative scenarios for the runway: keeping it at its current length of 7,008 feet, expanding it to around 8,000 feet, and expanding it to 9,200 feet.

The plan states that there is not a “clear requirement for a runway extension” and that there was not a clear business case from any particular airline for this project. The plan also states that the runway’s current length “provides excellent access to the US, Canada, Central and South American markets.”

However, the master plan also notes that “by maximizing the use of existing airport lands to the west, an 8,000 ft. runway can be achieved, providing long-haul opportunities in the future.”

A runway of at least 7,700 feet would support direct flights to London based on an 80 percent load factor. An 8,000-foot airstrip would increase that load factor by another 3 to 5 percent and it would provide additional safety for wet runway conditions, the master plan states.

One airline, British Airways, did tell PwC and WSP that a runway of 9,200 feet would “be desirable” for future route planning for long-haul direct flights to the U.K. and Europe.

But making the airstrip that long would require additional land for construction in North Sound. This would entail considerably more planning and cost, according to the master plan.

“Any extension into the North Sound would involve a considerable level of environmental assessment and planning that could be costly both in time and cost to complete the necessary investigations, impact assessment and mitigation planning,” the master plan stated. “To this end, the master plan determined that a runway length of 8,000 ft. could be achieved on existing land by extending the runway to the western limits of the airport boundary while reserving land for a 90m x 90m RESA [runway end safety area] at both ends.”

A pre-bid meeting and site inspection is scheduled to take place on March 18. The CIAA states in its request for tender that it hopes to have a bidder chosen by June.

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