A $45 million upgrade to Owen Roberts International Airport’s runway and airfield is almost complete.

The project, which started in November 2019, consisted of extending the runway, resurfacing and strengthening the runway surface, creating a new parallel taxiway and filling the ponds within the airfield perimeter.

In addition, an airfield perimeter road was created and the aircraft parking ramp was expanded to provide more space for parked aircraft.

Following the resurfacing, the runway is now durable enough to cope with larger aircraft, such as British Airways’ 777 jets, in the long term.

“Consisting of six sub-projects, the Airfield Upgrades Project works are nearing completion, after having been constrained by poor weather conditions over the past few months,” said Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO Albert Anderson in a press release.

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The apron expansion work was the first of the sub-projects to begin in late 2019, followed by the relocating of pond wildlife in January 2020 and the runway rehabilitation, parallel taxiway and runway extension in February 2020.

In August 2020, a new blast deflector was installed to mitigate jet blast from departing aircraft to protect pedestrians, cyclists and vehicular traffic using the road adjacent to the airport’s fence line.

The total cost of the project, expected to be completed before the end of this year, is $45.7 million.

During the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee in October, opposition members questioned why the project turned out to be significantly more costly than estimated.

Finance Committee members were asked to approve an additional $8.5 million for the project that were not included in the budget and a $20.9 million bridge loan from government the airports authority until a commercial loan facility becomes available.

An initial estimate of $25.8 million for the project was included the airport’s Master Plan 2032, released in 2014.

After a design and tender process, the full business case was approved by Cabinet for $34.3 million, approximately $8.5 million more than the initial estimate.

“This was due to the fact that the tendered cost was based on a full design, including geo-technical data, electrical upgrades, project contingencies, risk, construction administration, insurance and project management costs,” the CIAA said in its press release. “All of this would not have been included in the initial Master Plan estimates.”

In addition, two other planned airfield upgrades included in the master plan were brought forward, in response to increased aircraft activity at Grand Cayman’s airport in the first half of 2019.

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell explained the rationale in Finance Committee stating that “the country needed to be able to land planes in a faster way”.

These improvements included increasing ramp space at the General Aviation Terminal, extending the commercial apron for more aircraft parking, and a partial parallel taxiway from the east end of the runway to the apron to speed up the takeoff and landing process.

These upgrades were estimated to cost $12.8 million, and the full business case was approved by Cabinet. This brought the total approved budget for airfield works to $47.2 million, the CIAA said.

While the Airfield Upgrades Project is nearing completion at a cost of $45.7 million, the $1.5 million General Aviation Apron Expansion Project has not started yet and is currently being reconsidered due to the COVID-19 impact on aviation traffic.

Anderson said, “We are currently within the $45.7 million budget dedicated to the Airfield Upgrades Project and on track for completing the project scope by the end of 2020.”

To help fund the costs, Finance Committee approved a $20.9 million government bridge loan to the CIAA.

The airports authority is currently negotiating the contract for a loan of $12.4 million, plus an overdraft facility of $8.5 million with a local bank. To finalise the loan facility, the CIAA requires approval by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This approval is expected by the end of this year.

The airfield upgrades project is separate from the terminal redevelopment and expansion project which was completed in July 2019 at cost of almost $68 million.

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