This first of 12 segments is part of CAL's "Golden Year" initiative highlighting the airline's historical link to each of its current gateway cities, as well as each destination's many attributes. Stay tuned for more monthly destination features!
Like many of Cayman Brac’s accomplishments, the airport began as a community initiative. In 1954, a group of volunteers armed with picks and shovels hacked out a 1,200 foot airstrip, and levelled it with a heavy roller borrowed from Jamaica. The total cost was 1,600 pounds. Commissioners Smith and Gerrard obtained modest grants from London to enable the strip to be asphalted and extended to 2,700 feet. The runway was completed in 1955 and named the Gerrard-Smith Airport in honour of the two Commissioners who were instrumental in its construction.
Cayman Brac Airways started in 1955 as a link between the Sister Islands and Grand Cayman. It was a wholly-owned subsidiary of LACSA [the national carrier of Costa Rica), though the Cayman Islands Government did subsidize it to the tune of 4,000 pounds per year. The carrier began business with a Cessna T50, a four-passenger aircraft known as the Bamboo Bomber”. Next up was a six-passenger Aerocommander, then an eight-passenger Beechcraft. By 1972 its successor, Cayman Airways, was flying a 28-passenger McDonnell Douglas DC-3.
But back then, Cayman’s air passengers were mostly seamen, heading out to work on ships owned by National Bulk Carriers (NBC). LACSA still did a great deal of transport for NBC using DC-6’s and C-46 cargo planes, converted into passenger aircraft. One huge plane could carry an entire ship’s crew.
And air service to the Sister Islands continued to grow. In 1962, principals of Little Cayman’s first tourist development, the Southern Cross Club, financed construction of a small grass airfield at the southwest end of the island. Edward Bodden Airfield, named after a Little Cayman works foreman, was built on land owned by residents and levelled by local labour. Over on the Brac, the runway was extended to 3,300 feet in 1968 to accommodate a DC-3s. And recognizing how essential a reliable air service was to Sister Islands’ development, government often provided subsidies.
This excerpt was taken from the book “Aviation in the Cayman Islands, a Brief History” 1952 - 2011
For more on the history of Cayman Airways, visit www.caymanairways.com/ourhistory