October 24, 2020

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Bush meets Sir Richard to talk about air links

Sir Richard Branson

Premier McKeeva Bush has held top-level talks with British billionaire Sir Richard Branson about bringing Virgin Atlantic flights directly into Grand Cayman.

The two huddled at a secret George Town location last week to discuss Cayman ambitions to boost European air links, and the potential for expanding Virgin Atlantic’s eight routes between London’s Gatwick Airport and the Caribbean.

Premier McKeeva Bush agreed Virgin Atlantic could not fly directly to Grand Cayman, but left open the potential for code sharing from Jamaica.

“There were people here from [Virgin],” Mr Bush told iNews Cayman on Wednesday, “and I am talking to them.”

Both Mr Bush and Sir Richard agreed to “think about”‘ the project, although Mr Bush conceded on Wednesday that the airline could not land at Owen Roberts International Airport under current conditions.

“We would have to extend the runway,” he said, although he told an audience at a Tuesday tourism-review meeting that he hoped to see work start on the expansion by the end of the year.

“When the Shetty Hospital is built, medical tourism is going to be huge,” he said, citing Bangalore-based Dr Devi Shetty’s plans for a $2 billion, 2,000-bed hospital, visitors facility and after-care centre in East End. Groundbreaking on the initial phase of the project, a 140-bed hospital, is scheduled for August.

“We are going to need more airlift and the Civil Aviation Authority is in works to expand our airstrip and, hopefully, it will start in the middle of this year or in the last quarter,” he said.

Aviation lecturer Edward Jerrard said not only Virgin Atlantic, but also British Airways and other major carriers required at least an additional 3,000 feet to the 7,000-foot runway.

“Virgin Atlantic may be planning to come out at some point, but the runway has to be extended to nearly 10,000 feet,” he said.

Virgin Atlantic flies into Jamaica’s Montego Bay on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and into Kingston three times each week, although the airline said yesterday it would drop the Kingston route at the end of April.

“Montego Bay has been the most popular, and with Kingston we were competing with ourselves,” a spokeswoman said.

“But we are not planning in the near future any services into the Cayman Islands,” she said.

However, Mr Bush and Sir Richard renewed a long–standing proposal to operate end-to-end air services, called “code-sharing”, in which Cayman Airways would schedule services to Montego Bay, meeting Virgin Atlantic passengers ticketed through to Owen Roberts.

“They’d just have to change their schedules,” Mr Jerrard said. “It’s relatively simple.”

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