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Airport Set to Cross Bridge to the Present

TIMES URBAN AFFAIRS WRITER

John Wayne Airport finally entered the 20th Century this week with delivery of Jetways, the telescoping passenger loading bridges that most large, urban airports have had for more than two decades.

No more will bedraggled passengers have to trod across the concrete apron to reach their plane, only to have to climb a treacherous, metal stairway-on-wheels to get inside the cabin.

Unfortunately, passengers at John Wayne won’t actually be able to use the Jetways until the airport’s new $61-million terminal opens on Sept. 16, replacing a cramped, outdated facility reminiscent of airports in Third World countries.

“These Jetways will serve the aircraft, delivering power and water to the planes as well as passengers,” said Bill Early, a construction supervisor for HPV, the firm hired by the county to manage the $310-million airport improvement program.

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During a media tour of the airport Tuesday, Early pointed to workers’ connecting a complex system of hoses and electrical power cords from the gray, boxy bridges, which are supported at one end by a double-wheeled strut similar to an airplane’s landing gear and at the other by the new, 338,000-square-foot terminal building.

The new terminal will boast 14 of the Jetways, one for each gate. With the cost at about $214,000 each, the total bill for all 14 will be about $2,990,000, airport officials said.

The Lego-like loading bridges are being installed by the same company that makes them in Ogden, Utah--Jetway Systems Inc., a division of Abex Corp., which has been selling them to airports since 1959.

John Wayne Airport officials said the small, existing passenger terminal, opened in 1967, was never equipped with Jetways because the grossly inadequate facility could park and service more aircraft without them. Jets are often double-parked next to the terminal, and passengers must walk on the apron between the terminal and the planes. The existing terminal was built to accommodate 400,000 passengers annually, but currently serves nearly 4.75 million a year. The new passenger terminal will serve about 8.4 million passengers per year.

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The Jetways, which weigh 45,000 pounds each, are being delivered to the terminal in three pieces on flatbed trucks. Airport officials said it takes an average of five days to install each bridge, and all 14 will be completed and tested within 13 weeks.

Airline personnel will then undergo training in the use of the bridges.

With controls in a cab at the front of the bridge, an operator can telescope the Jetway and move it around, sideways, and up or down.

The smallest jetliner expected to use the loading bridges is the BAe-146, a small, twin-engine aircraft on which the fuselage hangs below the wings.

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One of the bridges will be longer than the others to accommodate larger aircraft, such as the Boeing 767.

The bridges are connected to openings in the side of the new terminal building. The passenger waiting areas near the gates appeared almost finished Tuesday, except for airline ticket collection booths and chairs. The area looks like a long barn, with beige marble, beige carpeting and soft, indirect light from shell-shaped light fixtures and a vast expanse of glass window, all under a curved roof.

One worker was vacuuming the carpeting while others were completing electrical wiring. Only short, see-over glass partitions separate each airline’s passenger waiting area.

The news media were invited to view the bridge installation work Tuesday, officials said, because the event is considered an important milestone that shows progress on the terminal construction project.

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The project has been troubled by delays and cost overruns. The Jetway “tour” came a day after the Orange County Grand Jury issued a report criticizing the management of the project.


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