“This is truly the people’s airport,” Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell declared as the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall officially opened the new expanded terminal Wednesday.
Prince Charles and Camilla unveiled a plaque in front of the distinctive glass façade of the new, improved Owen Roberts International Airport, as politicians, dignitaries and well-wishers gathered for the ceremony.
Around 300 people, many of them waving Caymanian and British flags, turned out to greet the royals and celebrate the opening.
Premier Alden McLaughlin welcomed the royal couple to the Cayman Islands, saying he was grateful they had accepted the invitation.
“The improvements we have made to our airport are to carry us through the next few decades as tourism numbers continue to soar,” he said.
The terminal has undergone a massive redevelopment over the past three years. Though the final price tag for the project has yet to be confirmed and there is still some work to finish on office space and shops inside the departure lounge, the upgrade is substantially complete.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell, speaking to the royals and invited guests at a ceremony inside the terminal, said the project had been paid for largely through airport revenues.
He said, “It is a very gratifying day because our pledge to provide the Cayman Islands with a world-class airport has been fulfilled. As well as signifying our progress as a modern progressive nation, this bigger, better airport is the standard-bearer for the CaymanKind brand.
“This outstanding facility has been built from cash, requiring no loans and is 100-percent owned by the people of the Cayman Islands. We can truly say it is the people’s airport.”
The royal party then moved outside where a larger crowd was waiting to witness the unveiling. After a few words from airports CEO Albert Anderson, Prince Charles and Camilla pulled back the velvet curtain to reveal the plaque as fireworks sparkled over the main entrance.
The couple took some time to talk to schoolchildren as they walked the red carpet at the airport entrance before being driven to Government House.
In his speech, Anderson said the airport upgrade had more than quadrupled the capacity of the terminal, which was originally built for 500,000 passengers a year.
“ORIA has now grown from a fledgling wooden structure in the 1950s to a complex facility that is designed to handle 2.7 million passengers per annum,” he said.
Anderson thanked the construction workers and airport staff that have worked on the facility for more than three years. He acknowledged there had been hiccups along the way and said more work would be done to improve the facility. But he said it had been nothing short of a miracle for the airport to cope with record tourism arrivals and cause minimum disruption to passengers during a lengthy construction process.
After the event, Kirkconnell said he believed it had gone well.
“It is a fabulous feeling. I am so impressed with the young people of Cayman. He [Prince Charles] was really engaging. They answered all their questions. It made me very proud. Both he and they had extremely positive feelings about the whole visit.”
Anderson said he was relieved and happy at how smoothly the event had gone.
“It is an absolute honour to have their Royal Highnesses here at the opening of the airport. It is something that all Caymanians can be proud of,” he said.
The airport opening was the royals’ first engagement after arriving in Grand Cayman.
They touched down on the Royal Air Force Voyager jet just before 4 p.m. Wednesday and were met on the tarmac by dignitaries including Governor Martyn Roper and his wife, Elisabeth, and Premier Alden McLaughlin and his wife, Kim. Police Commissioner Derek Byrne invited Prince Charles to take the royal salute from the police honour guard assembled there, before they were driven to the terminal building where crowds had been building all afternoon.
Throngs of schoolchildren, parents, teachers, tourists and residents gathered to get a glimpse of the royal couple.
Among them was a small group of demonstrators in red shirts waving signs saying such things as ‘Hungry, homeless, helpless, hopeless’, and ‘Stop systemic genocide’.