August 23, 2006 marked a ground breaking day as three major industry players gathered around Denver International Airport's Gate B15 and witnessed the world's first completely automated dual-end jetbridge. After the success of the initial installation, Dewbridge Airport Systems and United Airlines completed the upgrade at four more DIA gates with the DoubleDocker system before the Thanksgiving holiday rush flooded the concourse. Passengers are now deplaning in a fraction of the time and United employees, who were once sidetracked by prepping the bridge, can now focus their undivided efforts on customer service.
The project took off as a result of an earlier installation in Canada for WestJet airlines. Dewbrige had developed an automated over-wing jetbridge at Calgary and Vancouver airports and the recently established Ted Airlines, United's low-cost carrier, was looking for an innovative selling point. According to Neil Hutton, vice president of Dewbridge Airport Systems, United came to Dewbridge initially interested solely in the over-the-wing system in December 2003. But as the discussions progressed, it became clear that Ted needed a completely automated gate system.
Since the inception of the fully automated over-wing bridge, Dewbridge had already begun working on automating the apron-drive front bridge. They put the proposal together for United and before they knew it, they were working on a completely automated gate system featuring three core components: the Docking Guidance System, Automated Apron-Drive Front Bridge and the Automated Over-the-Wing (OTW) Bridge.
"The philosophy is that, historically, it is always the front door, in some cases the second, which is used for getting passengers on and off. If you're sitting in the back seat, you have to wait for everybody ahead of you to get out and it can take quite a long time," says Hutton. "If we had a bridge that would go to the front door and the OTW door, than you can get people on and off in roughly half the time." In theory, the airline would then be able to turn the aircraft quicker and be able to schedule more flights per day for the aircraft. More utilization means more revenue from that aircraft.
The installation process was like any other related to ground breaking technology, there were problems with breaking into the ground. While the installation deadline was met, there were initial issues with underground utilities located in troubling positions. According to DMJM Project Manager Mark Pearcy with Denver International Airport, the first layout came in right on top of several water lines resulting in some design adjustments.
Dewbridge was able to come up with a spread footing for the bridges to enable a fully-functional system without requiring deep footings in the ground. Despite minor setbacks, the company was able to meet its installation deadline.
DIA also found that because the bridges don't load up the apron in a traditional manner, treaded tires will work better in a snow-likely environment. The standard, smooth tires that usually work with larger bridges don't cut through the snow.
Jetbridge was not a favored word in the Denver Airport vocabulary. When the airport opened less than ten years ago, the city had purchased 68 Stearns bridges that were installed during the original construction. Less than ten years later, many of them were in very bad shape—the average shelf life was seven years. The city had a seven to ten-year replacement plan in which six to ten bridges would be replaced with jetways every year. In 2002 the city approved a $1.75 million purchase as part of the replacement program. ThyssenKrupp Airport Systems aquired Stearns in 1998.
The city was a little wary of an entirely new product that had been relatively untested, but Ted Airlines saw that it was critical to quickly turn the aircraft and in order to get that done, they had to deplane faster. United decided to finance the project and the city supported the decision.
Dewbridge remains committed to dual-bridge design
Future of United's high-tech passenger bridges uncertain; Airline awaiting results of probe into collapse of state-of-art device
The future of United Airlines' automated jet bridges for loading and unloading passengers remains in limbo as the carrier completes its investigation into how one collapsed in Denver nearly three...
No one was injured when the empty jetbridge collapsed Friday onto the wing of a United Boeing 757.