Last updated: 06:00 PM ET, Tue November 03 2015

Bigger Terminal, But No Jetways, At Revamped Cayman Islands Airport

Airlines & Airports | Brian Major | November 03, 2015

Bigger Terminal, But No Jetways, At Revamped Cayman Islands Airport

PHOTO: The ORIA expansion is scheduled for completion in 2018. (Courtesy of Cayman Islands)

The Cayman Islands’ $55 million expansion of antiquated Owen Roberts International Airport (ORIA), scheduled for completion in 2018, will feature a slew of new amenities and facilities, but will not offer jetways, the passenger boarding bridges used to transport passengers from their planes to the airport terminal, the country’s tourism minister said recently.   

The expanded airport will utilize boarding ramps and “box tunnels” in place of jetways, said Moses Kirkconnell, the Cayman Islands’ minister of tourism, in answer to questions in a recent Cayman legislative session that followed the airport project’s recent groundbreaking.

Kirkconnell said jetways would add an additional $20 million to the expansion’s cost. Several other Caribbean international airports also lack jetways and operate using systems similar to the one proposed by the Cayman tourism minister.

While he acknowledged that jetways enhance convenience for elderly and other travelers, Kirkconnell said the project’s primary goal is to expand ORIA’s frequently overcrowded terminal building. In a Cayman Compass article, Kirkconnell said “Provision has been made to add [jetways] at a later date as funds become available.”

Also off the table are any plans to extend the airport’s runways to accommodate long-haul flights. Kirkconnell cited “significant environmental and logistical constraints” tied to any runway expansion and said the runway’s current length is sufficient for all aircraft currently flying to the island.

Government officials have described the airport expansion as critical to the country’s tourism future. The Cayman Islands hosted 382,816 air arrivals in 2014, a 10.8 percent increase over 2013 and the country’s highest air arrival figure since 2000. The Cayman Islands’ fast-growing tourist arrivals have led to frequent overcrowding at ORIA’s small passenger terminal.

This year, the country’s visitor arrivals are continuing their rapid growth. ORIA reported 252,293 air arrivals between January and June of this year, a 20.1 percent increase over the same period in 2014. The airport launched commercial operations in 1952 with a “modest” terminal and a 5,000-foot long runway, according to government officials.

“The overcrowding at the airport has in some respects been a good problem to have because it shows how much our stayover tourism market is growing,” said Kirkconnell. “But we have reached the point where we have no choice but to expand this facility so that we can truly reap the benefits of providing a first-rate travel experience that is comfortable, convenient and on par with expectations.”

ORIA’s expansion will unfold in two phases. Currently underway, phase one is expected to be complete by March 2016 and will include construction of a new outgoing checked baggage preparation area and a new checked baggage screening room.

Phase two, set to begin next March, will feature the renovation and expansion of the departure lounge and check-in lobby, and the expansion of the airport’s arrivals area.

“When completed, our new airport will not only serve as a tremendous asset for our Islands,” said Kirkconnell, “but will also provide a welcoming atmosphere and make a positive, visual statement about our local lifestyle and culture.”

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