EDITORIAL – Another airport expansion on the horizon

Travellers weary of airport construction received bad news this week, as officials announced that record-breaking arrivals may necessitate yet another major expansion within the next decade.

It has been less than two months since Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall officially opened the upgraded Owen Roberts International Airport, which more than quadrupled the terminal’s previous capacity. But as the Compass reported on Tuesday, Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO Albert Anderson says it could soon be time to start ‘serious discussions’ of another major expansion – the construction of a fully equipped second terminal.

As Anderson told the Compass, “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.”

With today’s estimated 1.4 million annual arrivals and departures, Owen Roberts has plenty of room before reaching its 2.5 million passenger ceiling. But recent growth has outpaced projections. If it continues, Anderson says serious discussions of a new terminal could begin within five years.

The million-dollar question (actually, closer to $100 million, according to ballpark cost estimates for a second terminal) is whether and how fast airport traffic will keep growing. That is what makes long-range planning so difficult. On one hand, planners must avoid overbuilding costly projects that will never be used to capacity. By the same token, they must avoid being too cautious, spending slightly less on modest projects that are overburdened and outdated from the moment the ribbon is cut.

There is no question that to keep moving forward, Cayman’s planners must think far beyond what is currently adequate or imminently needed. Ideally, they should do so within a comprehensive infrastructure framework that includes the airport, ports, public transport, water and wastewater, telecommunications, electricity and essential services, like hospitals and schools.

All these elements work together to make our island a pleasant place to live, work and play – or the opposite. If one part of the system is lagging, it negatively affects the whole.

More airport arrivals, for example, affects more than just Owen Roberts. They mean more people on our roadways, greater demand for accommodations, for fresh water and removal of waste.

It seems to us that government has recently been showing a greater tendency towards such ‘systems thinking’, which can help prevent problems rather than shifting them around our little island.

Take, for example, the National Roads Authority’s adoption of ‘Complete Street’ standards and the call for a “radical new approach” to public transportation – two initiatives that will help maximise use of our roads.

In our schools, the Office of Education Standards is making good on a promise to thoroughly evaluate schools’ performance and to make their findings public.

The emerging National Planning Framework, currently in public consultation, is government’s most ambitious attempt to date, encompassing tourism, infrastructure, health, education, transport, housing, land use and the environment.

So while, as occasional air travellers, our hearts may sink a bit at the prospect of another round of airport construction, as champions of our community and responsible government, we are glad to see officials keeping their eyes on the horizon.

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  1. I was in the departure lounge about 10 days ago on Sunday afternoon. It was so crowded there was hardly a spare seat.

    My flight to Tampa was delayed by almost an hour.

    I cannot imagine what it must be like on Saturday in the busy season.

    So much for planning for 5 years growth.