How To Build A Bridge That Boeing 747s Can Taxi Under

To increase the capacity of London Gatwick’s North Terminal, a new satellite building was constructed. To get passengers to and from the satellite, the airport constructed a huge passenger bridge. This bridge spans a live taxiway and is sufficiently wide and high enough to allow a Boeing 747-400 to pass underneath! So how was this achieved?

Gatwick bridge 747
Gatwick’s pier bridge spans 197 meters. Photo: Mace Group

London Gatwick is the United Kingdom’s second-busiest airport. In terms of airports operating with just one runway, it ranks among the busiest, once experiencing a take-off or landing every 65 seconds at peak times. To facilitate more capacity at the airport, Pier 6 was developed to add 11 new aircraft stands. As it passed over a taxiway, it had to be created high enough to allow an aircraft the size of the 747-400 to pass underneath.

“The bridge did not need to allow for the A380 to pass underneath as there were no aircraft stands beyond the bridge which could take A380s.” – Scott Brownrigg

Connecting passengers

To look at the story behind this bridge, we have to turn to the firm responsible for constructing it: The Mace Group. Responsible for Heathrow’s relatively new Terminal 5 as well as Mumbai’s Terminal 2, this firm was tasked with building Gatwick’s Pier 6 Bridge and Taxiway.

The project’s goal was to increase the capacity of the airport’s North Terminal, through the construction of a new satellite building that accommodated 11 aircraft stands. To ensure a good level of connectivity, a 197 meter-long pier bridge was built to link it to the main terminal.

“A landmark project, it is the first of its kind at any airport in the UK, and the largest development since the North Terminal opened in 1988.” – Mace Group

Gatwick bridge
The bridge is meant for passengers and includes a moving walkway to facilitate travel. Photo: Getty Images

Off-site fabrication

Mace Group notes that extensive off-site fabrication had to take place, stating that 73% of Pier 6 was built using prefabricated elements and components.

“The pier connector was constructed off-site to ensure minimum disruption to airport operations. Construction in-situ would have closed the taxiway for more than six months, resulting in a huge financial impact to BAA through loss of revenue.” – Mace Group

Working offsite for much of the time, the firm poured in one million hours of labor for the project. Airport Technology notes that the fully enclosed bridge design was based on the human spine. Let’s see what it took to actually install the prefabricated structure.

Gatwick bridge
The bridge has a height of 32 meters. A Boeing 747 has a tail height of 19.35 meters. Photo: Mace Group

Onsite installation

Being constructed offsite, Airport Technology notes that the air bridge was moved into position in May of 2004.  Installing a bridge that weighs 2,660 tons to a height of 32 meters is no easy task.

Mace Group notes that the bridge was moved into position over a single night. This was done with the use of self-propelled modular transporters (eight L450 lifting jacks), moving at 0.5 km an hour.

With this method of installation, the taxiway was reopened to aircraft after just ten days. Mace Group states that this could not possibly have been executed without “modern techniques in heavy moving and lifting equipment.”

Have you had the opportunity to walk over this unique bridge? Share your experience with us by leaving a comment.