Work on construction sites throughout the Cayman Islands has ground to a halt during the coronavirus crisis, but there is one spot where bulldozers, dump trucks and other heavy equipment are still in operation – Owen Roberts International Airport.
With almost no planes landing because of the border closure, this has turned out to be the ideal time to complete the airport upgrades, which are now being done at an accelerated pace.
Six ‘sub-projects’ are expected to be finished as part of the $30 million Airport Airfield Upgrade Project, officials said. These include the rehabilitation of the existing runway surface, a runway and apron extension, a new airfield perimeter road, a new taxiway for planes, the filling in of ponds in the airfield, and expanding the aircraft parking ramp.
The first set of upgrades began in November 2019 and construction crews had been working during nighttime hours, when no aircraft were landing or taking off. However, the airport has been closed since 22 March, meaning crews now have access to the airfield at all times of the day and night.
A crew of 40 men has been divided into two shifts, one to excavate and construct the various portions of the airfield by day, and a crew to do the paving by night.
Albert Anderson, CEO of the Cayman Islands Airports Authority, said in a statement Wednesday, “We are very pleased with the progress we have made in bringing big improvements to service, operations and safety standards at our airports and remain committed to enhancing the services and amenities we provide to our traveling public.”
He added, “Some aspects of the Airfield Upgrade Project works are moving ahead of schedule due to the increased availability of the airfield to perform the works.”
Construction crews are working day and night to complete the upgrade of the airport’s airfield. – Photo: Cayman Islands Airports Authority
The rehabilitation and strengthening of the existing runway will comprise an additional three layers of asphalt. The first and second layers have already been completed and the final layer is expected to be finished by mid-May.
The Airports Authority expects the runway extension and blast deflectors to be completed by June, and a new taxiway, which will run parallel to the current runway, is expected to be completed by mid-July.
The filling of the airfield ponds has already been completed on the west end of the runway, and the remaining two ponds are expected to be filled by mid-May. The perimeter road is scheduled for completion by the end of May.
The final completion date of the project still remains mid-September. However, work on the apron expansion is expected to halt temporarily because travel restrictions will prevent a UK-based specialist concrete team from entering Cayman until the islands’ borders reopen.
Premier Alden McLaughlin earlier this month stated that the airport would remain closed at least until the end of May, although he has also indicated that on a number of occasions that it is unlikely Owen Roberts will reopen until the end of the year.
“During these challenging times, we are more proud than ever of our dedicated teams working behind the scenes to provide our customers with professional, innovative airport services and facilities in a safe, efficient manner, and we look forward to being able to share in this airfield transformation with the community going forward as we all work together to bring normalcy back to our daily lives,” Anderson said in the statement.