Redefining Dulles (IAD)

The white elephant that once was Dulles International Airport is today a vibrant facility serving the region around the nation's capital. Here's an update on the massive captial development program underway.


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.”

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