Jet bridges changed the way airports work, and we are all very used to them now. All jet bridges may serve the same purpose (to board and disembark easily and efficiently), but they are not all built the same. One of the most unusual types is complex overwing bridges, built to facilitate large widebodies such as the Boeing 747. Amsterdam Schipol was a major adopter of such gates and still has two in operation.
The jet bridge
Jet bridges have been in use since the late 1950s, when they started to be introduced in US airports. This standard concept of an extending, moveable bridge began with United Airlines installing them at New York JFK, Los Angeles, and San Fransico airports. American Airlines soon did the same in San Francisco.
The basic design of a series of telescopic tunnels has changed little since then. They have become more sophisticated, with longer sections, moveable terminal connections (to shift between arrivals and departures, for example), and the use of automatic controls and leveling.
Making them work for larger aircraft
The single jet bridge was great for smaller aircraft. But boarding and unloading of large aircraft this way took much longer (an important consideration for airlines). Of course, external stairs could still be used, but this was harder with terminal access. Some airlines would park aircraft such as the Boeing 707 and DC-8 parallel to the terminal to use two bridges to speed up boarding. It saved time but took up space.
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The dual jet bridge was soon developed. This sped up boarding by using two doors whilst allowing the plane to use just one airport gate. This is often used today, of course, for boarding economy and premium classes separately.
Building them overwing
These double jet bridges work great for connecting to two doors when the doors are close together. But what if there is a wing in the way, and you want to connect to a second door?
The overwing jetbridge was a solution for this. This uses a standard jet bridge structure to connect to the forward door and an attached second bridge to branch out over the wing and connect to a further after door. It has been most common;y used with the Boeing 747 (connecting to the rear door four), but some airports have used it for the A340 and 777 as well (and possibly other aircraft).
One early such structure was introduced at Los Angeles International Airport by TWA. This, in fact, used three connected jet bridges, with the third overwing bridge supported by a ground pillar.
Other overwing gates suspended the bridge with pylons to allow it to pass over the wing (providing better support). This allowed the bridge to operate from just one terminal connection, taking up less space. The result is a complicated piece of engineering and requires care to operate properly.
Such gates may appear complex, but (in the overall scheme of airport and aircraft infrastructure) not that expensive. Helping the quick turnaround and boarding of the aircraft can save an airline money.
Still operating in Amsterdam Schipol
The overwing jetbridge was especially useful for the 747-400, and many airports that have a large number of them operating installed such bridges.
As far as we can tell, the only airport that they still operate at is Amsterdam Schipol. Several such gates were installed from the 1980s onwards, on the E, F, and G pier. As of February 2021, only two such gates remain – gates E20 and E22 (Schipol airport has confirmed this to Simple Flying).
These gates are still in use, although not for the 747 anymore. KLM retired its last 747-400 in October 2020, and few other airlines are still operating them. The dual bridge still works for the Boeing 777-300ER (using doors two and four). For other aircraft, it can function as a single, albeit cumbersome, jetbridge.
Other airports that used them
Overwing gates were used at many North American airports. As just shown, they appeared early at LAX. Denver, Albany, Austin, Calgary, and Vancouver airports all used a similar bridge style at some point. Albany airport still had them in use recently and had adapted them to use with Southwest’s Boeing 737s.
The larger suspended bridges, similar to ones in Amsterdam, were installed at New York JFK but have long been removed (according to discussion on forum airliners.net).
Overwing jet bridges are great pieces of engineering, and in some ways, it’s a shame not to see them in use much anymore. Feel free to share details of any other airports you know of that used them, and in particular any that may still be in use; we’d love to hear about them.