Want to Buy A Bridge?
Four critical factors for selecting a regional boarding bridge.
By Todd Tanner, Boarding Bridge Product Manager, FMC Airport Systems
While commercial air travel continues to produce disappointing numbers, the current boom in regional jet service is generating the brightest growth opportunities in the industry. Taking full advantage of these opportunities, however, depends upon choosing boarding bridges that will increase regional service profitability, not reduce or eliminate it. Fortunately, after a few years of using regional boarding bridges, the industry is starting to identify several areas absolutely essential to their successful performance. Based on this experience and analysis, this article briefly examines four critical "make-or-break" factors to consider when specifying and purchasing regional bridges that will enhance operations and profitability.
1 PASSENGER SAFETY
Just as it helped give birth to the boarding bridge more than 40 years ago, concern for passenger safety still ranks as the number one factor in assessing competing regional bridge designs. This concern goes beyond the given of pure humanitarian considerations. It also relates directly to reducing liability risks and lessening the likelihood of litigation and lawsuits.
One key aspect of maximizing passenger safety centers on eliminating tripping hazards throughout the bridge. First, the cab floor that docks to the aircraft doorsill should be self-leveling and adjustable. The greater the angle from the rotunda end of the bridge down to the doorsill of the aircraft, the more important a self-leveling floor becomes. Without one, passengers step out onto a floor that slopes relative to the tarmac and aircraft interior, increasing the potential for falling.
Next, the bridge floor itself needs careful examination. In particular, one must consider whether the floor design eliminates or minimizes protruding hinges, cavities, and seams — all potential catch points for heels, as well as the accumulation of debris, ice, and snow. An alert comparison of available designs in the market will reveal considerable differences among suppliers.
In regional bridges, cab handrails also contribute substantially to passenger safety. Their configuration and structure should keep passengers out of harm's way by guiding them to cab areas meant for passenger traffic. Handrails should be configurable to the type of aircraft served and should guide passengers away from heated sensors and pitot tubes on the aircraft fuselage. In general, handrails that extend right up to, or, in some cases, just inside, the fuselage greatly ease the transition between aircraft and bridge. And, to comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), handrails should run the full length of any transition ramps in the tunnel section of the bridge. This is not the case in all bridge designs.
Another extremely important issue for investigation is fire safety. While admittedly rare, ramp fires and fuel spills of various types do occur. When fire erupts, the boarding bridge must be capable of providing a safe route of hazard-free, emergency egress for passengers. If not, the potential for loss of life, serious injury, and resultant financial liability becomes considerable.
Various manufacturers build regional bridges to different levels of fire resistance and robustness. But, since they all face the same fire risks, regional bridges at minimum should adhere to the critical industry-standard design test for bridges servicing larger aircraft — the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 415 fire code. It makes good sense for purchasers to request reliable independent certification that the regional bridge design complies with these fire test provisions. Compliance can also help expedite approvals from local inspection officials.