by Brian Major
Last updated: 8:00 PM ET, Wed September 16, 2015
PHOTO: A rendering of the renovated Owen Roberts International Airport. (courtesy RS&H Group)
Cayman Islands government and tourism officials broke ground last week on a long-planned, $55 million expansion of Owen Roberts International Airport (ORIA). The expansion's centerpiece is a new terminal to be built in four phases, with the first launched Thursday. The construction will ultimately expand ORIA from 77,000 to 207,000 square feet and is expected to be completed in 2018.
The new terminal's construction is being directed by Florida-based RS&H Group, which the Cayman Islands Airports Authority (CIAA) selected in January following a competitive bidding process.
The new terminal will feature larger ticketing, arrival and departure areas, improved baggage screening, a new VIP area, new concessions in the departure and main entrance areas, plus nine departure gates and a large greeting hall.
The revamped facility will also feature a new second floor restaurant, new customer immigration and domestic and international bag claim areas and a second floor in-transit area. The renovated airport's design is based on the profile of the Cayman Islands' native green sea turtle, with a flattened, curved body and paddle-like arms.
"For Cayman to flourish it must have modern infrastructure that helps its people and businesses," said Alden McLaughlin, the Cayman Islands' premier. "Several successive governments had talked about fully renovating Owen Roberts International Airport."
Cayman Islands tourist arrivals have surged in the past two years even as the nation struggled with an outdated ORIA that frequently crowded to overflowing.
"Last year we had 382,816 air arrivals, which translate to a 10.8 percent increase over 2013 and the country's highest air arrival figure since the year 2000," McLaughlin said. "Indeed, from January through July this year we've already had 252,293 air arrivals compared to 201,491 in 2014," he said.
"From all indications, and barring some disaster or economic shock, the number of air passengers through the airport will continue to increase into the future as more hotel room stock is added," McLaughlin said.
ORIA will remain in operation throughout the four phases.
"The Airports Authority will do everything to ensure passengers have a positive experience during the construction phase," he added.
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