Bridging the Gap

Janet Meisler and her husband, Don, know what it feels like to stand on the Evansville Regional Airport tarmac in the pouring rain. So does Denise Johnson, who’s weathered the tarmac’s snow and ice as she’s waited to board a plane.

But thanks to four new jet bridges – two per concourse – these travelers are now able to walk directly from the gate to the airplane within the comforts of a sheltered hallway.

“What this means is that approximately 350,000 travelers in and out of this airport every year will no longer have to get off the plane and walk across the tarmac to reach the terminal,” says Mayor Lloyd Winnecke. “The new jet ways represent a $2.5 million investment in the airport and in economic development.”

The jet bridges are essentially big hallways that pivot to meet an aircraft. They had been on the airport’s radar for some time, but they didn’t become a priority until a little more than two years ago. Airport manager Doug Joest says the design and bidding process began in the second quarter of 2012, and contracts were awarded in May.

“The jet bridge provides electrical power and heating and air conditioning to the aircraft in one self-contained unit,” Joest says. “(Before the jet bridges, items were) plugged into the airplane, so they won’t have this other equipment out there on the ramp.”

Additionally, the jet bridges are able to adjust vertically, says Jason Frank, an engineer with the firm Crawford, Murphy & Tilly Inc. out of Indianapolis. This means they can accommodate a Boeing 737 or other large chartered aircraft.

The jet bridges offer convenience and safety for all passengers, Joest says.

“(The jet bridges are) easier for people who need a wheelchair, “ he says. “It’s a much more graceful way for people to get on an airplane. (Previously, travelers with disabilities) obviously took the elevator, but there (were) still the stairs and aircraft that had to be dealt with.”

Meanwhile, despite the changes, passengers still will be able to check their valet, or carry-on, bags at the gate before they board the plane. The new jet bridges mean these bags that are too big to fit in the overhead compartment of the plane will no longer sit on a rack by the steps to the plane, exposed to the rain or snow.

“The passenger will place it on the cart at the door (when they enter the jet bridge), and when they arrive (at their destination) they will pick up the bag as they enter the building,” Joest says.

The jet bridges were built specifically for the Evansville Regional Airport, Joest says. Some of the gates were modified to add doors where windows once were, and the electrical work was very involved, largely because the bridges provide electrical power to the aircraft.

Crawford, Murphy & Tilly Inc. were the engineers on the project. The manufacturer and prime contractor was JBT Aerotech from Ogden, Utah. Local sub-contractors were Capital Electric Inc., Industrial Contractors Skanska, South Western Communications, and Architectural Sales, Division of Lensing Wholesale Inc.

The project was paid for with the local airport authority’s cumulative buildings fund. This fund is used for capital projects at the airport, Joest says.

“We didn’t borrow money for this,” he adds.

However, passengers flying out of Evansville essentially pay for improvements at the airport. Each person who flies out of the Evansville airport pays a $4.50 passenger facility fee. This fee is currently being collected for other projects, as well. Joest says the airport will use the funds collected from the passenger facility fees to reimburse the cumulative buildings fund. This will allow the airport to make other improvements in the future. According to federal and state regulations, aviation authorities can only use certain funds for certain purposes.

These types of improvements can only help the Tri-State.

“A study by Garner Economics took a close look at Evansville Regional Airport and said the terminal had a dated look that conveyed a poor perception to visitors that the community and region is antiquated,” Winnecke says. “What that said to a company scouting a community for business development is that our community lacked a sense of pride. Businesses are not interested in locating in communities that do not care.”

That’s why the jet bridges are so important, says Greg Wathen, the president and CEO of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana. He says the jet bridges are a critical piece of infrastructure for this area.

“These are nice and new and they are really marvelous,” Wathen says. “It’s another step forward for progress.”

Brad Schneider, president of the Henderson-Henderson County Chamber of Commerce, says the jet bridges are key to helping improve the image of the Tri-State.

“Not having the jet ways made us look ‘minor league’ in the view of some,” he says. “I recall the last time I flew into (Evansville Regional Airport), I was sitting near two guys who had obviously never been to Evansville before. It was raining when we landed. When they realized they were going to have to walk on the tarmac and get wet, they looked at each other as if to say, “Really?” Happened right in front of me. I cringed a little. Hopefully, little instances like that are now a thing of the past.”

Travelers leaving Evansville, meanwhile, are very happy with the installation of the new jet bridges.

“I think it’s fantastic,” says Denise Johnson, the executive director of the Department of Parks and Recreation for the City of Evansville. She was traveling to Austin, Texas, on the day the jet bridges were announced. “It puts us on the next level.”

“It’s absolutely the best thing they’ve done,” adds Janet Meisler, who was heading to Florida with her husband that same day. “We are thrilled to death with these things.”

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