GRAND CAYMAN, Cayman Islands – The Cayman Islands government Tuesday unveiled a multi-million dollar program to upgrade airport infrastructure approved by Cabinet in 2014 and had not been updated since.
“I am happy to advise the country that the process to update our Airports Master Plan has been successfully completed. This comprehensive 286-page document builds upon previous airport master plans and clearly identifies the opportunities and constraints associated with our existing airport infrastructure and includes recommendations for improvement,” Tourism and Ports Minister, Kenneth Bryan, told a news conference.
He said towards the end of 2019, prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the commercial, business and tourist sectors were all experiencing significant growth.
But Bryan acknowledged that while this was a good sign for the economy, it was also placing significant stress on the airports systems and their infrastructure.
He said soon after taking up office in 2021, he had disclosed that work had commenced on updating the airport master plan, to guide the ongoing development of the airports over the next 20 years.
“In aviation terms, Airport Master Plans are typically reviewed and updated every 5 to 7 years. The existing Cayman Islands plan was approved by Cabinet in 2014 and had not been updated since.,” he said, noting that the Outline Business Case (OBC) presented to Cabinet on May 25 had been approved.
“The Outline Business Case is a substantial component of the master planning process and its purpose is to examine each of the recommendations identified in the plan and to provide the financial analysis and costs. As such, it is a document that Cabinet has taken the time to study and scrutinize in order to make its determination. “
Bryan said that four specific projects have been granted approval by Cabinet and that they will be carried out at the Owen Roberts International Airport (ORIA), and the Charles Kirkconnell International Airport (CKIA).
He said KYD$28 million (One Cayman islands dollar=US$1.21 cents) would be used to extend the runway at the ORIA as well as US$4.7 million will go towards improving the air traffic control Surveillance at ORIA.
He said $42 million had been set aside for the provision of a new general aviation facility and $1.15 million will be utilized for undertaking Runway End Safety Area works, commonly known as RESA, at the CKIA.
“The total cost of these enhancement and development projects…amounts to $76 million and represents a significant and necessary investment in our airport facilities, which serve as our international gateways and windows to the world.
“The entire slate of recommendations outlined in the Business Case call for an investment of $800 million over 20 years which is not feasible to consider in the current economic environment,” Bryan told reporters.
He said consequently, government has strategically selected the projects that are necessary to address safety and regulatory concerns, provide the greatest business development opportunities, that are affordable for the country and that provide a solid foundation to support continued growth in the tourism sector.
He said having received the green light from the Cabinet, the next phase will be for the development process, which are public consultation, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and procurement.
“As is customary, the Cayman Islands Airports Authority (CIAA) will follow open, transparent and competitive procurement processes, ensuring value for money is achieved for all phases of these projects.
“On completion, they are expected to deliver significant economic benefits and will have a major impact on our ability to strategically grow our tourism industry over time,” Bryan said, noting that the benefits include increased stay-over visitor spending, increased revenues for the Cayman Islands government, increased opportunities for additional airlift into Grand Cayman, and greater overall profitability for the Cayman Islands Airports Authority.
“Given the significance of these projects to the country’s long-term economic success, the revenue required to fund the projects will be derived from increasing the terminal fee to five dollars as well as introducing a new airport development fee of $15.00,” he said, adding “it is important to note that the Airports Authority will not require any funding from the government to complete these projects”.
Bryanm said that the new airport development fee will be applicable only during the construction period, which is estimated to be six years from 2024 to 2029.
“This means that neither the Airport Authority nor the government will need to borrow funds in order to cover the estimated capital and operating expenditure during the lifetime of the projects.
“Additionally, I think it is also worth noting that from a competitive standpoint, an analysis of comparable airports in the Caribbean region shows that the Cayman Islands passenger-related airport fees would come more in line with destinations such as Jamaica and the Bahamas. In other words, we would not be pricing ourselves out of the market,” he added.
Bryan, who is also chairman of the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), said a crucial part of government’s responsibility in managing the tourism industry, is to bring about solutions that will boost the island’s ability to retain its market share as a leading tourism destination.
“Tourism is one of the most competitive industry’s on the planet and it is therefore imperative that we not only maintain the quality of the facilities and services that the Cayman Islands offers, but that we also bring them in line with the best in the world, to keep pace with the changing expectations and requirements of our visitors.
“Countries across the region, that we compete with on a daily basis, such as Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, BVI, Jamaica and the Turks & Caicos Islands, having recognized the need for airport growth to increase tourism, either have made, or are in the process of making, the relevant investments and incentives to position themselves for the future expansion of their tourism industry.”
He told reporters that with up to 25 per cent of the Cayman Islands gross domestic product (GDP) being derived from tourism, managing the capacity, capability and competitiveness of our airports is a strategic imperative that the Cayman Islands cannot ignore.
He said in the case of the Owen Roberts International Airport, there are no Air Traffic Management (ATM) surveillance systems in place, which means air traffic is being controlled manually.
“Managing air traffic in this way is not only outdated, but reduces efficiency and increases the level of safety risks. This is a key area of concern for the CIAA and is a safety issue that needs to be addressed as a priority.
“Over in Cayman Brac, the Charles Kirkconnell international airport is currently operating under an exemption to airport regulatory standards due to the insufficient length and strength of the Runway End Safety Area or RESA. This is another area of concern that also has to be rectified as a priority,” he added.