Ever since the heyday of Mississippi steamboats, the Quad Cities that straddle the mighty river have been a hub of agricultural, industrial and commercial activity. With Bettendorf and Davenport on the Iowa side of the river, and Moline and Rock Island on the Illinois side, transporting goods and people is a historic and current key to the area's prosperity.
Quad City International Airport (MLI) in Moline has been an important component of the regional transportation network for decades. Currently, MLI serves more than 763,000 annual passengers and ranks as the third-busiest airport in the state, behind only O'Hare and Midway International in Chicago.
Last fall, Moline's bustling airport finished a $2.5 million project that included the installation of five new jet bridges and two new airside walkways. The initiative was federally funded with bonds backed by passenger facility charge (PFC) revenue - a financing mechanism and income source that Bruce Carter, the airport's aviation director, stresses is vitally important for MLI and other small hubs.
"The PFC-funded jet bridge project will have a lasting impact on our ability to serve airlines now and in the future," explains Carter. "Modernizing the PFC cap is a must and is a fiscally responsible way to ensure that airports have the resources to remain competitive. PFCs gave us that opportunity."
Less Emissions, More Flexibility
Project: Jet Bridge Upgrades
Location: Quad City Int'l Airport (Moline, IL)
Cost: $2.5 million
New Equipment: 5 electric/mechanical boarding bridges; 2 fixed walkways; 2 pre-conditioned air units
Bridge Manufacturer: JBT AeroTech
Installation: Walter Niese Machine
Crane Work & Installation Support: Brandt Construction
Key Benefits: Increased ability to service large & small aircraft; decreased carbon emissions
MLI's recent boarding bridge project was in the planning stages for two years. The airport replaced the five oldest units in its 10-piece fleet with new JBT AeroTech bridges, and will likely replace the remaining older equipment over the next 10 years, explains Bryan Johnson, MLI's assistant aviation director.
The airport also added 50-foot fixed walkways and pre-conditioned air units to two gates, B10 and B15. While the installation of foundations added to the overall length of construction, the new walkways maximize the apron area and allow the airport to accommodate larger aircraft, Johnson notes. Including the extra work for the new walkways, the project took approximately 10 working days per bridge, he details.
The bridges that were replaced dated back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. "Normally, these last considerably longer," says Johnson. "But so much has changed in recent years with the jet bridge design, materials and now even sustainability."
Installing electric/mechanical boarding bridges and eliminating ground power units driven by diesel engines ultimately help reduce the airport's footprint of carbon emissions, he explains.
In addition to sustainability, flexibility was another factor driving the project. Some of the previous radial bridges didn't effectively service the airport's current fleet mix, comments Johnson. Specifically, they couldn't physically reach high or low enough for certain aircraft. "(The new bridges) will give us the most flexibility, so we can serve large aircraft down to the smaller regional and charter jets," he remarks.
Personnel from Walter Niese Machine, the contractor that installed the bridges, say the project went well, despite a few engineering "hiccups" and weather delays. In addition to reducing emissions, MLI's new electric/mechanical bridges will help reduce noise and equipment on the ramp, notes company co-owner Steve Niese.
Johnson expects the airport's new AeroTech bridges to be in service for 25 to 30 years.
The recent boarding bridge project is the latest in a larger series of infrastructure improvements at MLI. Last year, the Illinois airport remodeled both of its concourses and expanded its TSA security checkpoint, baggage claim area and rental car facilities during a major terminal renovation.
Last summer, a new Holiday Inn hotel opened adjacent to the airport.
MLI's current terminal dates back to 1985, after studies showed that an addition to the original 1954 structure would be more costly than building a new one. Completion of the new $11 million terminal helped garner additional service. Between 1979 and 1986, the airport increased from two to seven carriers. Currently, four serve MLI: Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. Delta is the airport's largest carrier, by seat capacity and number of daily flights.
Although MLI has no commercial passenger flights to overseas destinations, it is an official U.S Customs port of entry with Foreign Trade Zone status and a U.S. Customs Office for shipment of goods. With a number of large firms such as machinery manufacturer John Deere & Company based in Moline, locally based corporate jets frequently make non-stop flights from MLI to destinations around the globe.
Last year, a larger U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility that processes international passengers arriving on general aviation flights opened at the airport. Located in a former air cargo building, the facility includes a processing room, an interview room, an agricultural inspections area, office space and holding cells for passengers who are prohibited from entering the United States or travelers who are being detained and transported by law enforcement.
"In addition to commercial activity, Quad Citiy International enjoys bustling charter air travel activity," adds Johnson. "The next phase of the Customs facility project calls for renovating the remainder of the building to create an international terminal or Federal Inspection Service, as we are looking forward to the creation of non-stop international charter flights in the near future."