Monday, April 02, 2007

Nothing can go wrong...go wrong...go wrong...

This past September United Airlines introduced a clever piece of equipment to some of its gates at Denver International Airport. It's called the Dewbridge DoubleDocker jet bridge, and it allows passengers to board or deplane simultaneously from two doors on the aircraft into one gate area (see photo).

The DoubleDocker is intended to save both time and money. First, of course, since it allows passengers to board and deplane more quickly, faster aircraft turn-around times are possible.

The DoubleDocker also saves more time and money because it is fully automated. According to the manufacturer, DEW Engineering and Development Ltd., it provides apron scanning and parking instructions for the arriving aircraft -- faster and more accurate aircraft parking, with no need to wait for a marshal.

This kind of automation, says the manufacturer, also means that no ramper or customer service agent is required to drive the jet bridge. Rampers can focus on other tasks, like aircraft servicing and baggage handling. Customer service agents can concentrate on ticketing, seat assignments, and related tasks. Passenger processing at the gate happens much more quickly -- and think of all the time and money saved by not having to cross-train those people to park aircraft and drive the jet bridge.

Have a look at the second photo at right and you can see an example of how the rear section of the DoubleDocker goes right over the wing of an aircraft to meet with an aft door. Pretty spiffy.

But, like all things automated, sooner or later something goes haywire, and when it does it can be potentially very costly.

Last week, a United Airlines B757 aircraft had a run-in -- literally -- with a DoubleDocker jet bridge at Denver. United Flight 965 had just arrived from Boston on March 30, 2007 when, as the FAA's preliminary report about the incident says, "while positioning at the gate, the rear part of the jetway collapsed onto the left wing." Oopsie.

The FAA report said that the extent of the damage to the aircraft (and presumably to the jet bridge) was "unknown." The aircraft did not continue on its next scheduled leg. Fortunately, no one one was injured.

An item about the incident in the Denver Post said that the 176 passengers and 8 crew exited the plane through the functioning front door and bridge. More details from the Denver Post article:

In September, United said it was leading the airline industry in introducing fully automated dual-end jet bridges at DIA, which allow the boarding and de-planing of passengers from front and rear doors simultaneously.

United has five of the dual-end jet bridges at DIA, [United spokeswoman Megan] McCarthy said. They are computer-guided and driven, and use a combination of artificial vision and sensors to locate the plane's doors and drive the front and rear bridges to their docking positions, according to information United released last year.

The unit's rear bridge, the one that malfunctioned, is supposed to travel over the wing to dock with the plane's rear door. The devices are made by Dewbridge Airport Systems and carry the trade name DoubleDocker.

United owns the jet bridges, but DIA maintains them, McCarthy said. "We're doing a complete investigation with the airport and the manufacturer" to find out why the bridge hit the wing.

"We're still trying to figure out exactly what happened," DIA spokesman Steve Snyder said.
An  article, published on  quoted Dewbridge Vice President Neil Hutton who said that the company is investigating, and had no idea what caused the collapse.

It's fully automated. Nothing can go wrong...go wrong...go wrong...

[Photo Source]