Narrow bridges

How are Jet Bridges attached to aircraft?

We mostly take jet bridges for granted when boarding or disembarking an aircraft. Their development, however, was crucial. They are more convenient for passengers and save airlines time. Their operation and use have changed little since their introduction. We explore a bit more about them here.

Development of the reaction bridge

Jet bridges began to appear in the 1950s, with carriers such as United Airlines experimenting with designs. In the early 1960s the jet bridge was installed at major airports in the United States, and by the 1970s and 1980s it was common at most major airports. The technology and design of jet bridges have improved over the years, but they still work the same way.

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The bridges are designed as a mobile walkway, which can be disengaged during aircraft maneuvers and then brought closer. They are fixed at the terminal end, with the ability to rotate and sometimes extend. They do not “attach” as such to the aircraft but establish close contact. The incoming aircraft will line up with the markings on the ground but will not move after that. The positioning of the gateway is ensured by an operator aligning the gateway with the door of the aircraft. This is now starting to be automated with some reaction bridges.

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Modification of the jet bridge

There have been several design changes over the years, but the bridges are still based on the same principles. Longer, multi-storey walkways were developed, often with an additional pivot point. Dividing into multiple decks allows the single jet deck to be used to access multiple doors. This not only differentiates between cabins, but also speeds up boarding and disembarking, which is important for achieving fast aircraft turnaround.


Double jet bridge

Splitting the jet deck was more convenient for large carriers. Photo: Jnpet via Wikimedia

The most visually spectacular development is the jet bridge over the wing. This was developed to handle the Boeing 747 where the doors used are separated by the wing of the aircraft. Some airports have also used it for the A340 and 777. The most complex of these bridges (but also the most efficient as they connect to a single airport gate) suspend the bridge with pylons to allow it to pass above the wing.



Jetbridge on Schipol wing

Always attached to the left side of the aircraft

An interesting point about how bridges are attached is that they are, almost always, connected to left doors. This is a convention inherited from the maritime era. Historically, ships were serviced from the right, with passengers using the left.

This stuck with aviation and became the norm. A common approach like this is incorporated into the design of airports and gates, with services always loaded from the right, such as catering, baggage and fuel.


jet-bridges-emirates-getty
Jet bridges connect the aircraft door directly to the terminal. Photo: Getty Images

Automation of the reaction bridge

One change we’re likely to see more of is the automation of the jet deck. These began to be used in 2018, with one installed at Wellington Airport. Trials began with KLM at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam in 2019.

Self-reacting bridges use sensors and cameras to align and dock to the aircraft. It’s faster than manual operation and ultimately cheaper. Safety is a major consideration, but results so far have been positive.


KLM Automated Jet Bridge

KLM installed the first automated jet bridge in Europe in 2019. Photo: KLM

Avoid the jet bridge

As good as they are, you’ll often find yourself not using jet decks. Low-cost airlines, in particular, routinely avoid them – sometimes even parking at a stand next to a jet bridge and using stairs and buses instead. The reason isn’t technical – it’s just to save money.


Ryanair Boeing 737 Lubeck Getty
A Ryanair Boeing 737 on the ground in Lübeck. Photo: Getty Images

Airports charge user fees for many facilities, which are not included in standard airport landing fees. This generally includes jet bridges. Some airports charge a fixed price, while others may offer a per-passenger service charge for remote stands. Either way, money can be saved by not using them. Traditional airlines expect more to use jet terminals and bridges.

Some airlines, including Ryanair, go further. They added built-in stairs to the plane to avoid having to rent them at airports. This is common in small aircraft, but not on standard commercial narrow bodies.

Would you like to discuss more about the development, technology and use of jet bridges? Feel free to do so in the comments.


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