The runway at the Owen Roberts International Airport resumed full flight operations Tuesday morning after an aircraft blast damaged a temporary asphalt ramp, leading to the runway’s closure on Monday, according to the Cayman Islands Airports Authority.

The CIAA, in a statement Tuesday afternoon, said operations were suspended Monday at 3:23pm after the temporary ramp was damaged. It had been put in place on Sunday evening as part of the runway rehabilitation project, which is currently under way.

“Safety inspections and controlled observations by airport engineers were carried out immediately following the incident, in which the temporary asphalt ramp was ‘lifted’ as a result of aircraft blast,” the CIAA said.

It said work was carried out Monday evening to repair the temporary ramp and “to ensure the permanent pavement was not affected”.

This led to the runway being closed for approximately two and half hours. It partially reopened at 5:55pm Monday evening with a redeclared distance, allowing limited flight operations to resume, the CIAA said.

Albert Anderson, Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO, said in Tuesday’s statement, “We had a slight set-back [Monday] on flight operations.”

He said immediate action was taken to secure the runway, “only resuming flight operations after safety inspections and controlled observations indicated it was safe to do so”.

The CIAA said its project team and the contractor met Monday to discuss and agree to “enhanced methodologies to be used in the construction of temporary ramps to prevent a re-occurrence throughout the remainder of the project”.

Those methodologies were not released.

Last year, the CIAA signed a $30 million contract with IDL Projects Joint Venture for the airfield upgrade project. The IDL Projects Joint Venture comprises three companies – Island Paving, DECCO and IDL Projects.

When the runway project was revealed last year, plans were announced to close the airport on Tuesdays to allow for paving works, but that decision was rescinded in favour of carrying out the works during nighttime hours when no flights were scheduled.

Monday’s incident caused a number of flight delays and diversions.

Cayman resident Djurre Woudstra said he was one of the few passengers on a BA flight from Heathrow, London, via the Bahamas, who were able to secure another flight out of Nassau on Tuesday. However, several others have to wait until Thursday to catch a flight to Cayman.

“Most of the fellow passengers were shipped off to hotels. We went to BA to see if we can be rescheduled on other flights,” he said speaking to the Cayman Compass from the airport in Nassau.

Woudstra said he and a couple of passengers booked an American Airlines flight to Miami from Nassau Tuesday afternoon, and they will then take a Cayman Airways flight to Cayman on Tuesday evening.

“It is messy,” he said.

Woudstra said there was confusion Monday about what was happening with the flight and the reason for the delays.

“We were up in the air [Monday],” he said. “We were first told there was an earthquake that affected Cuba and there was a sinkhole in Cayman on the runway. Later, we found out it was not a sinkhole.”

He said his employers have been understanding, but he believes the situation was not handled well.

“It was clear the staff in Bahamas was not very good at coping with this kind of situation,” he said.

The CIAA said work on the runway began last week and will take approximately five months to complete.

“The works will require the runway to be closed nightly to all aircraft movements, between the hours of 10pm and 7am,” it added.

What the project entails

The CIAA explained that the runway rehabilitation project entails the runway to be milled to a nominal depth of 25mm to remove the existing runway grooves, paint and rubber deposits.

Following this, 180mm of hot mix asphalt will be placed on the runway in a series of three paving lifts.

At the end of each night’s production, a temporary asphalt ramp will be placed on the runway to account for the difference in the elevations of the new and existing pavement, and temporary paint striping will be installed.

After the final lift of pavement is completed, the runway will be grooved and final markings placed.

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