CHANTILLY, VA — When Washington Dulles International Airport opened in 1962, it was billed as evidence of long-range thinking for the region around the nation’s capital. Yet, by the 1970s, there was talk of tearing it down. It was not until the 1980s, when growth from the District began to seriously push to the northwest, that Dulles began to grow into a viable international airport. As with Washington Reagan National Airport, the key catalyst to Dulles’s growth came with the creation of the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority. In the midst of a $4 billion capital development program, Dulles is now poised to become the regional — and international — force envisioned in the 1950s. This is particularly true as the Washington metropolitan area continues its unbridled growth, and with airfield capacity constraints at the region’s two other commercial airports, Reagan and Baltimore/Washington International.
Comments Dulles VP/airport manager Christopher U. Browne, “We’re blessed and lucky because of the vision of others years ago, especially providing for a lot of land around the airfield. I think it’s a good example of good public-use planning. It’s come into its own. With all this development, we haven’t had to go out and condemn neighborhoods and litigate with our neighbors. We’re able to do most of this inside the perimeter fence.”
Beginning in 2000, Dulles International began a nearly $4 billion construction program — known as D2 (for Dulles Development) — to meet future demand. Major projects include two new parking garages, a fourth runway, a new concourse, a new air traffic control tower, pedestrian walkways, and an airport train system, AeroTrain. A fifth runway has been permitted and could be built within five years, according to Browne.
The 12,000-acre airport features the famed award-winning main terminal, designed by Eero Saarinen and cost $108.3 million. In the 1990s the main terminal was extended on each end. It is today listed on the Historic Register.
Says Browne, “The main terminal is actually now at the full size at which Saarinen envisioned it. In the post-9/11 world, the central throughput actually serves to our benefit. If you go to Narita (Japan), for instance, there’s a single roadway in and out and a toll plaza that serves as an inspection point when you come on the property. Conceivably, we could do that if the threat were to elevate to that point.”
Dulles International has 128 airline gates and is currently expanding Concourse B with 15 additional gates. That will be offset, however, by the scheduled demolition of the regional Concourse D, constructed by United Airlines to compete with upstart Independence Air. When the latter went bankrupt in January 2005, explains Browne, the need for Concourse D was diminished.
The airport is rapidly becoming an international hub, particularly for United, and 21 of its 31 airlines are international carriers. In 2006, Southwest Airlines came to Dulles, currently occupying two gates, which Browne anticipates will grow. The carriers serve some 120 destinations from Dulles.
Tying it All Together
According to Browne, two of the biggest complaints, particularly from out-of-towners, regarding Dulles International are the fact that it doesn’t connect to the popular Washington Metro rail system; and, its mobile lounges that move people between the main terminal and the airline concourses. Both issues are being addressed.
Regarding a connection to the Washington Metro, Browne says the airport is currently studying the feasibility of expanding from its current airports-only position and may look to operate the toll road which connects the airport to the capital, and, in turn, financing the Metro link with the ongoing revenues generated.
Explains Browne, “We are looking at a proposal to finance and build the Metro rail coming out from west Falls Church [VA], where we operate the toll road and use the proceeds to build the Metro. That’s a work in progress with the Commonwealth [of Virginia] right now.”
Meanwhile, the terminal complex is currently torn up end to end as the airport looks to replace the mobile lounges, which never caught on in the U.S. When completed, the AeroTrain, projected to open in 2009, will connect all concourses to the main terminal, and will also be primed to extend to a second main terminal and entrance that is a central part of the master plan, according to Browne.
“Central to all this is the underground people mover,” he explains, “akin to what they have at Denver and Atlanta. But we’re building a loop system — two tracks in a loop, which, while more expensive, met with airline objections initially.
“We proceeded with it because it does several things for us. If there’s a problem with a track at some point, we can circulate trains the other way; you won’t have single-point failures. Also, within the concourses you’ll have two stations, which provides for less walking distance to the gates.”
The AeroTrain will also help to streamline passenger flow through the main terminal, he points out. “When we open this train system, all the security screening will be down one level. Instead of the current 21 lanes we’re going to have 44; it will be in its own security screening plaza. Then you’ll go down one more level to the train system.
“We will deconflict a lot of the security cue-in from the ticketing.”
One unresolved issue facing Dulles officials is the installation of an in-line passenger baggage screening system. “Although we’re at 100 percent design completion on an in-line system,” explains Browne, “we’re still trying to secure arrangements with the TSA [Transportation Security Administration] that would allow us to come up with some kind of funding formula that is affordable and gets the job done. It’s about a $250 million challenge.
“What we’re not prepared to do is just go out and use debt financing to pay for this and then wrap it into the rate base for the carriers and their passengers. It’s about a two-year construction project, and it’s absolutely critical that we get it.”
Rethinking Fuel Storage
In 2006, Dulles International was presented with numerous challenges in supplying jet fuel to the airlines. As a result, the airport has embarked on an expansion program of the airport-owned fuel farm that will bring another 24 million gallons of storage capacity onsite. When completed, the airfield will have its jet-A delivered directly from an East Coast pipeline that comes from the Gulf Coast. It currently receives the bulk of its jet-A via two smaller pipelines that are routed via distributors.
Explains Browne, “We had to supplement. There were five trucks brought down from Chicago and the drivers worked all summer trucking down fuel from New Jersey. Very expensive transportation costs. If we were to not build these new tanks, it would be about 120 fuel truck deliveries a day. That’s unacceptable to the roads and the community.
“We’re not going to sell the fuel; we’ll have somebody else manage the fuel farm under contract.” The airport will recapture its costs for the farm by building via lease rates and a minimum guarantee, according to Browne. Unlike most airports, Dulles has no fuel flowage fee.
The airlines, via a consortium, hire the fuel farm manager, which is currently AirBP, subject to MWAA approval.
“It’s cost-recovery only,” says Browne. “The only discretionary income we make is off the non-airline revenue, the concessions.” The airport shares 50 percent of revenues with the carriers via signatory agreements.