The Cayman Islands may need to build another new airport terminal within the next five to 10 years.

The redeveloped Owen Roberts International Airport was officially opened by Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla in March, but airport bosses are already contemplating further expansion.

“Our throughput now is certainly much greater than the master plan predicted. That was based on trends at the time. We are at the optimistic level for growth so the trigger for building the new terminal could be much sooner than it would have been.”

Albert Anderson, Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO

A 20-year master plan for Cayman Islands airports, compiled in 2013, recommended immediately upgrading the existing terminal to swiftly address serious overcrowding problems.

But it stated that a fully equipped new terminal would be needed by 2032.

Since that document was produced, increases in arrivals have far outstripped projections, meaning the timeline for the new building may have to be brought forward.

Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO Albert Anderson said the number of passengers passing through the airport each year was now up to 1.4 million, compared with fewer than one million when the master plan was produced.

“That time frame is crunching quite quickly,” he said.

“Our throughput now is certainly much greater than the master plan predicted. That was based on trends at the time. We are at the optimistic level for growth so the trigger for building the new terminal could be much sooner than it would have been.”

If the current rate of growth continues, he said, serious discussions on a new terminal could begin within five years.

That could change if growth slows down as hurricane-hit islands in the eastern Caribbean get back to business following 2017’s devastating storms, or if there is a change in Cayman’s national tourism policy. Anderson said discussions over a new airport terminal would take place alongside broader government strategising over the future growth of the industry.

“I think we have to get used to the fact that if something isn’t happening at the airport and with our roads, hotel rooms, either we have made a conscious decision to slow things down or something is wrong,” he said.

Space on the current airport site has been allocated for a new terminal. Anderson said the details of that project had yet to be discussed in detail, but acknowledged it would likely be a $100 million development.

He said financial constraints had made a wholly new terminal impossible when the project was first drawn up in 2013, at a time when government was facing a funding crisis and mandatory borrowing limits.

“That was made quite apparent when we started,” Anderson said. “The redevelopment was going to relieve the current pressure until we get to where we could build a much more substantial facility.”

Though detailed plans have yet to be drawn up, he said the master plan envisaged the new terminal becoming the main aviation terminal, with all the features of a modern airport, and the existing buildings playing a secondary role.

The main work on the renovated terminal is now complete, with retail shops and stores and back office space likely to be finished by the end of June.

But the work does not stop there.

A request for proposals went out last month for a series of airside developments, including strengthening the runway to ensure it is durable enough to cope with British Airways’ new 777 jets in the long term. The runway will also be lengthened by at least 400 feet.

Anderson said this was just a small part of the work and was not designed to facilitate any new flights. In fact, the work will simply restore the runway to its previous length of 7,000 feet after 400 feet was removed for operational purposes in 2014 to meet end-zone safety requirements. Depending on cost, the runway could be extended a further 500 feet, up to the perimeter fence, but there are no current plans for the kind of extension that would facilitate long-haul flights or necessitate moving the roads near the airport.

The planned airside work also includes filling in ponds, which have become a haven for bird life that poses a threat to planes, adding a perimeter road and creating more plane parking slots.

Anderson said this would help manage planes, particularly at peak times.

“It will help us get planes on the ground, get them parked and meet the demands of Saturdays in particular,” he said.

He warned that, even with the expanded terminal, there would still be lengthy waits at times on the busiest days of the year.

“The challenge we have is that in a four-hour period on a Saturday there is a huge volume of traffic, and that is not easy to change.

“Everybody wishes you could come off your plane and get to your car in 10 minutes, and you can on some days, but not on a Saturday.”

He said the new technology and the merger of customs and immigration into one border force could help make that process smoother in the longer term.

The airside work is likely to begin in July, and will take around a year to complete.

After that, a request for proposals be issued to invite companies to apply to build and operate a new general aviation terminal.

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