First U.S. Crystal Bridges Installed at Killeen-Fort Hood Regional

Jim Faber
Published in: 

It seems like there just isn't as much whimsy and romance in air travel these days.

The Killeen-Fort Hood (TX) Regional Airport is trying to do something about that. In July, the three-airline airport opened two "crystal bridges" - passenger bridges manufactured with glass-paneled sidewalls instead of the usual steel walls.

"Because the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport terminal building is such an aesthetically pleasing space, we wanted to carry the 'wow factor' out to the airside and provide our passengers a view they don't normally see," explains John Sutton, the airport's director of aviation services.

The crystal bridges are the first of their kind in the United States, says Jacobs Engineering Group, the architect, and ThyssenKrupp Airport Systems, the manufacturer.

"In the European community, glass bridges are quite popular and common," says ThyssenKrupp president Mark Jones. Sutton estimates they've been used there for about 20 years.

ThyssenKrupp has also built and installed bridges in Jamaica and Venezuela.

Despite interest from U.S. airports, glass-wall bridges haven't been used in the States because the National Fire Protection Association mandates that passenger bridges cannot have a window anywhere other than in the cab area for use in positioning the bridge onto the aircraft, Sutton says.

The airport, architect and manufacturer, however, successfully asserted that the glass in the bridge was a wall assembly, not a window. The bridge also met all requirements during testing at the Southwest Research Institute, an independent, nonprofit research organization in San Antonio.

Facts and Figures

Project: 2 Crystal Passenger Bridges

Location: Killeen-Fort Hood (TX) Regional Airport

Architect: Jacobs Engineering Group (formerly Jacobs Carter Burgess)

Manufacturer: ThyssenKrupp Airport Systems

Subcontractor: Jo Luis Corporation

Size: 125 ft. extended/75 ft. retracted

Cost: $1.97 million

Construction: 2006 - 2008

The Need: Additional Passenger Bridges

The Desire: Something to "wow" passengers

The Challenge: Securing local and national fire approvals

Local fire officials from the Killeen and Fort Hood, who had the final say, both approved the use of the glass bridges.

Officials from Jacobs and ThyssenKrup predict Killeen's bridges could be pivotal in changing the overall market.

Same, But Different

Jones and Harry Sigley, program manager in the Jacobs North American Infrastructure Group, both note that there's no difference between glass and steel bridges from a performance standpoint.

"Operationally, it has the same maneuverability, the same process," says Sigley.

Glass, of course, takes more care to ship than steel, but Sigley says there were no issues with the delivery and installation of the glass.

Another practical concern was the hot Texas sun. Even though the glass is tinted to keep the bridges cool, the airport and architect didn't take any chances. They also specified additional air conditioning capacity.

That the Killeen airport is trying something new shouldn't be a surprise - the $83 million airport itself is relatively new. When the 83,000-square-foot terminal building opened in August 2004, only four of the six passenger bridges were installed due to funding constraints, Sutton explains.

By 2006, there were more planes on the ground than bridges to accommodate them. That's when airport planners decided to go for the "wow factor" of crystal bridges.

Why Bother?

Ray Streeter, operations director for ThyssenKrupp, describes glass bridges as "very open and bright; very welcoming."

"The aesthetics are just stunning," adds Sigley of Jacobs, noting that crystal bridges add a state-of-the-art feel to airports.

The price tag for that state-of-the-art feel was $1,971,078 - just 5 percent, or $90,000, more than the cost of metal bridges, says Sutton.

Despite the extra work to get the crystal bridges approved and the extra cost to manufacture and install them, there isn't a functional benefit for the airport. It's all for the passengers.

Some of that is practical.

"Because the aircraft position for both the north and the south gates requires an abnormally long span in order for the bridges to mate with the door of the plane, we wanted something that would eliminate the feeling of claustrophobia some people may experience in the typical metal bridge," Sutton says.

But, it's more than just that. Glass, says Sigley, provides passengers with a "momentary joy of the aesthetic of the bridge."

There's also the curiosity factor.

"The airport ramp is a hotbed of activity," notes Jones. Normally, travelers don't get a glimpse of that. Now, in Killeen, they share the excitement.

Even before the crystal bridges went into full-time service in July, they were already drawing interest.

"The incumbent airlines - American Eagle, Continental Connection and ASA Delta Connection - can't wait to begin using them," Sutton says. He also expects that passengers will begin asking about replacing the other metal bridges as soon as they see the glass bridges. 


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