Get Washington-Dulles International Airport essential facts below. View Videos or join the Washington-Dulles International Airport discussion. Add Washington-Dulles International Airport to your PopFlock.com topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
Washington-Dulles International Airport
Airport in Dulles, Virginia serving the Washington Metropolitan Area in the United States
The current site was selected by President Eisenhower in 1958; the Dulles name was chosen by Eisenhower's aviation advisor Pete Quesada, who later served as the first head of the Federal Aviation Administration. As a result of the site selection, the unincorporated, largely African-American community of Willard, which once stood in the airport's current footprint, was demolished, and 87 property owners had their holdings condemned.
Dulles was also built over a lesser known airport named Blue Ridge Airport, chartered in 1938 by the U.S.. The airport was Loudoun County's first official airport consisting of two grass intersecting runways in the shape of an "X". The location of the former Blue Ridge Airport sits where the Dulles Air Freight complex and Washington Dulles Airport Marriott now sit today.[better source needed]
Design and construction
Dulles Airport in 1970
The civil engineering firm Ammann and Whitney was named lead contractor. The airport was dedicated by President John F. Kennedy and Eisenhower on November 17,  As originally opened, the airport had three long runways (current day runways 1C/19C, 1R/19L, and 12/30) and one shorter one (where current taxiway Q is located). Its original name, Dulles International Airport, was changed in 1984 to Washington Dulles International Airport.
The main terminal was designed in 1958 by famed Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, and it is highly regarded for its graceful beauty, suggestive of flight. In the 1990s, the main terminal at Dulles was reconfigured to allow more space between the front of the building and the ticket counters. Additions at both ends of the main terminal more than doubled the structure's length. The original terminal at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan, was modeled after the Saarinen terminal at Dulles.
The design included a landscaped man-made lake to collect rainwater, a low-rise hotel, and a row of office buildings along the north side of the main parking lot. The design also included a two-level road in front of the terminal to separate arrival and departure traffic and a federally owned limited access highway connecting the terminal to the Capital Beltway (I-495) about 17 miles (27 km) to the east. (Eventually, the highway system grew to include a parallel toll road to handle commuter traffic and an extension to connect to I-66). The access road had a wide median strip to allow the construction of a passenger rail line, which will be in the form of an extension of the Washington Metro's Silver Line and is expected to be completed in 2021.
Notable operations and milestones
First Lady Pat Nixon ushered in the era of jumbo jets by christening the first Boeing 747 at Dulles, January 15, 1970
Dulles was initially considered a white elephant, being far out of town with few flights; in 1965 Dulles averaged 89 airline operations a day while National Airport (now Reagan) averaged 600 despite not allowing jets. (Dulles got its first transatlantic nonstop in June 1964.) Airport operations grew along with Virginia suburbs and the Dulles Technology Corridor; perimeter and slot restrictions at National forced long-distance flights to use Dulles. In 1969, Dulles had 2.01 million passengers while National had 9.9 million.
On May 24, 1976, supersonic flights between the U.S. and Europe began with the arrival of a British AirwaysConcorde from London and an Air France Concorde from Paris. The two were lined nose-to-nose at Dulles for photos.
When the SR-71 was retired by the military in 1990, one was flown from its birthplace at United States Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, to Dulles, setting a coast-to-coast speed record at an average 2,124 mph (3,418 km/h). The trip took 64 minutes. The aircraft was placed in a storage building, and is now displayed at the Smithsonian's adjacent Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum.
In 2007, 24.7 million passengers passed through the airport.
On November 20, 2008, a third parallel north-south runway opened on the west side of the airfield, designated 1L/19R. The original 1L/19R was re-designated 1C/19C. It was the first new runway to be built at Dulles since the airport's construction.
On August 15, 2012, the first Ethiopian AirlinesBoeing 787 Dreamliner arrived at Washington Dulles. It was Ethiopian Airlines' first 787 & the first 787 received by an African carrier.
On October 2, 2014, British Airways began using the Airbus A380 on flights from London Heathrow Airport to Dulles. However, it temporarily ended A380 flights, reverting to a 747-400 twice daily during peak season, but in October 2019 British Airways resumed back to once-daily A380 operations during non-peak season.
In 2019, four new major international routes were added. Alitalia began non-stop service utilizing an Airbus A330 to Rome, Italy, operating five times weekly during the peak summer season, reducing to three times weekly during the winter season.EgyptAir operates a Boeing 787-9 with nonstop service to Cairo, Egypt three times a week year-round.TAP Air Portugal flies five times weekly with nonstop service to Lisbon, Portugal with its recently delivered Airbus A330-900neo. During winter season, it will switch to A321LR service. As of May 2019, United Airlines began non-stop service to Tel-Aviv, Israel utilizing a Boeing 777-200ER operating three times a week.
Main Terminal Station of Aerotrain
By the 1980s the original design, featuring mobile lounges to meet each plane, was no longer well-suited to Dulles' role as a hub airport. Instead, midfield concourses were added to allow passengers to walk between connecting flights without visiting the main terminal. Mobile lounges were still used for international flights and to transport passengers between the midfield concourses and the main terminal. A tunnel (consisting of a passenger walkway and moving sidewalks) which links the main terminal and Concourse B was opened in 2004. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) began a renovation program for the airport including a new security mezzanine with more room for lines.
A new train system, dubbed AeroTrain and developed by Mitsubishi, began in 2010 to transport passengers between the concourses and the main terminal. The system, which uses rubber tires and travels along a fixed underground guideway, is similar to the people mover systems at Singapore Changi Airport,Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Denver International Airport. The train is intended to replace the mobile lounges, which many passengers found crowded and inconvenient. The initial phase includes the main terminal station, a permanent Concourse A station, a permanent Concourse B station, a permanent midfield concourse station (with access to the current temporary C concourse via a tunnel with moving walkways), and a maintenance facility. Mobile lounges continue to service the D Concourse from both the main terminal and Concourse A. Even after AeroTrain is built out and the replacement Concourses C and D are built, the mobile lounges and plane mates will still continue to be used, to transport international arriving passengers to the International Arrivals Building, as well as transport passengers to aircraft parked on hardstands without direct access to jet bridges. Dulles has stated that the wait time for a train does not exceed four minutes, compared to the average 15-minute wait and travel time for mobile lounges.
Under the development plan, future phases would see the addition of several new midfield concourses and a new south terminal. A fourth runway (parallel to the existing runways 1 and 19 L&R) opened in 2008, and development plans include a fifth runway to parallel the existing runway 12-30. If this runway is built, the current runway will be re-designated as 12L-30R while the new runway will be designated 12R-30L. An expansion of the B concourse, used by many low-cost airlines as well as international arrivals, has been completed, and the building housing Concourses C and D will eventually be knocked down to make room for a more ergonomic building. Because Concourses C and D are temporary concourses, the only way to get to those concourses is via moving walkway from the Concourse C station which is built in the location of the future gates and Concourse D by mobile lounge from the main terminal.
In the short term, United Airlines is currently constructing a 20,000 square foot (1,900 m2) buildout on Concourse C between gate C18 and the AeroTrain entrance to provide space for a new Polaris Lounge for international passengers.
Decades-old rules set by Congress that limit the number of takeoffs and landings, as well as distance of routes, at Reagan Airport were intended in part to keep more flights at Dulles. However, those rules have been weakened by Congress over the years, causing Dulles to lose 200,000 passengers to Reagan between 2011 and 2013.
Meaning of IAD
Dulles originally used airport code DIA, the initials of Dulles International Airport. When handwritten, it was often misread as DCA, the code for Washington National Airport, so in 1968 Dulles' code was changed to IAD.
The airport's terminal complex consists of a main terminal (which includes four of the original gates, "Z" gates), and two parallel midfield terminal buildings: Concourses A/B and C/D. The entire terminal complex has 123 gates and 16 hardstand locations from which passengers can board or disembark using the airport's plane mate vehicles.
Conceived in early planning sessions in 1959, Dulles is one of the few remaining airports to use the mobile lounge (also known as "plane mates" or "people movers") now only used for transport to the International Arrivals Building as well as transport for Concourse D. They have all been given names based on the postal abbreviations of 50 states, e.g., VA, MD, AK.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has gradually phased out the mobile lounge system for inter-terminal passenger movements in favor of the AeroTrain, an underground people mover which currently operates to all of the concourses except concourse D, with passenger tunnels remaining to concourses A and B. Plane mates remain in use to disembark international passengers and carry them to the International Arrivals Building, as well as to transport passengers to and from aircraft on the hard stands (i.e., those parked remotely on the apron without access to jet bridges).
The terminal ceiling is suspended in a catenary curve above the luggage check-in area.
Dulles's iconic main terminal houses ticketing on the upper level, baggage claim and U.S. Customs and Border Protection on the lower level, and annexes for the International Arrivals Building for international passenger processing, as well as the Z gates (used by Air Canada, Frontier and United Express), various information kiosks and other support facilities. The main terminal was recognized by the American Institute of Architects in 1966 for its design concept; its roof is a suspended catenary providing a wide enclosed area unimpeded by any columns.
The main terminal was extended in 1996 to 1,240 feet (380 m)--Saarinen's original design length--which was slightly more than double its originally constructed length of 600 feet (180 m). On September 22, 2009, an expansion to include the 41,400 square feet (3,850 m2) International Arrivals Building opened for customs and immigration processing with a capacity to process 2,400 passengers per hour.
Also in September 2009, a 121,700 square feet (11,310 m2) central security checkpoint was added on a new security mezzanine level of the main terminal. This checkpoint replaced previous checkpoints which were located behind the ticketing areas, however, travelers enrolled in TSA PreCheck and CLEAR still use this area to clear security. A separate security checkpoint is available on the baggage claim level. Both security checkpoints connect to the AeroTrain, which links the main terminal with the A, B, and C concourses.
All non-United flights operate out of these two concourses as well as some United Express flights.
Concourse A (which has 47 gates) composes the eastern part of the closest midfield terminal building. It consists of a permanent ground level set of gates designed for small planes and regional jets used by United Express, and several former Concourse B gates. The concourse is primarily used for international flights. Air France operates an airline lounge opposite gate A22, Etihad Airways operates a First and Business Class lounge across from gate A15, and Virgin Atlantic has a Clubhouse lounge across from gate A32. Concourse A's AeroTrain station is located about halfway through the concourse, between gates A6 and A14.
Concourse A & B during the night
Concourse B (which has 28 gates) composes the western half of the building. It is the first of the permanent elevated midfield concourses. Originally constructed in 1998 and designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, the B concourse contained 20 gates. In 2003, 4 additional gates were added to concourse B, followed by a 15-gate expansion in 2008. In addition to the AeroTrain station located between gates B51 and B62, Concourse B also has an underground walkway to connect it to the main terminal. Concourse B is used by some international carriers, and is also utilized by all non-United domestic and Canada flights. The facility also includes a British Airways Galleries lounge, a Lufthansa lounge divided into Senator and Business class sections located between gates B49 and B51, and a Turkish Airlines Lounge near gate B43.
Concourses C and D
The interior of Concourse C and D, where United Airlines's hub operation is based
Concourses C/D are solely used for United Airlines flights, as it functions as their hub at IAD. All mainline United flights and most United Express regional jet operations operate out of these concourses (some United Express flights use Concourse A).
These concourses were constructed in 1983 and designed by Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum. The two concourses have 22 gates each, numbered C1-C28 and D1-D32, with odd-numbered gates on the north side of the building and even numbered gates on the south side. Concourse C composes the eastern half of the terminal and Concourse D composes the gates on the west half of the terminal. The C/D concourses were given a face lift in 2006 which included light fixture upgrades, new paint finishes, new ceiling grids and tiles, heating and air conditioning replacement, and complete restroom renovations.
Concourse C also has a dedicated Federal Inspection Station located at ground level. International United flights not originating at an airport with US customs pre-clearance can directly deplane passengers via the jet bridge at Concourse C (as opposed to using plane mates to offload passengers). Once deplaned, arriving passengers are separated. Passengers terminating at Dulles take a mobile lounge that transports them to the International Arrivals Building, while connecting passengers continuing on another United flight go through U.S. Customs and Immigration at the FIS station on the ground level. Since this immigration facility is only for connecting passengers on United and other Star Alliance carriers, it has shorter lines and passengers do not have to re-clear security at the massive security checkpoints in the main terminal.
A new and permanent C/D concourse (also called "Tier 2") is planned as part of the D2 Dulles Development Project. The new building is to include a three-level structure with 44 airline gates and similar amenities to Concourse B. The concourse plan includes a dedicated mezzanine corridor with moving sidewalks to serve international passengers. The design and construction of the new C/D concourse has not been scheduled. When built, it is planned that both terminals will be connected to the main terminal and other concourses via the AeroTrain. To that extent, the AeroTrain station at Concourse C was built at the location where the future Concourse C/D structure is proposed to be built, and is connected to the existing Concourse C via an underground walkway.
Air traffic control tower viewed through a skylight in the main terminal
Since many major domestic and international airlines have a large presence at Washington Dulles, there are numerous airline lounges within the airport:
Air France: Air France/KLM Lounge, A Concourse across from gate A22.
United Airlines: United Clubs in C Concourse (at gates C4 [the former Global First Class Lounge], C7 and C17), and one in D Concourse at gate D8. As of June 2019, United has begun construction on their latest Polaris Lounge, located across from gate C17 next to the AeroTrain escalator, due to open early 2020.
Washington Dulles is accessible via the Dulles Access Road/Dulles Greenway (State Route 267) and State Route 28. The Dulles Airport Access Highway is a toll-free, limited access highway owned by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to facilitate car access to Washington Dulles from the Capital Beltway and Interstate 66. After it opened, non-airport traffic between Washington and Reston became so heavy that a parallel set of toll lanes were added on the same right-of-way to accommodate non-airport traffic (Dulles Toll Road). However, the airport-only lanes are both less congested as well as toll-free. As of November 1, 2008, MWAA assumed responsibility from the Virginia Department of Transportation both for operating the Dulles Toll Road and for the construction of a rapid transit rail line down its median. Route 28, which runs north-south along the eastern edge of the airport, has been upgraded to a limited access highway, with the interchanges financed through a property tax surcharge on nearby business properties. The Dulles Toll Road has been extended to the west to Leesburg as the Dulles Greenway.
The Metrobus 5A route also operates service to the airport. The bus stops at the Herndon-Monroe park & ride lot in Herndon and the Rosslyn Metro station in Arlington and terminates at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station in Southwest DC. Rosslyn can be accessed by the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines, while L'Enfant Plaza is also served by the Yellow and Green lines.
Washington Flyer has a monopoly to operate cabs from Washington Dulles Airport.Uber and Lyft are popular modes of transport to and from the airport and MWAA receives a $4 fee per trip, which is included in the quoted fare.
On January 21, 1970, the first commercial flight of the Boeing 747 was delayed, when an engine malfunction caused the aircraft in question to be temporarily grounded. Another 747, the Clipper Victor, was on standby, and flew the inaugural flight for Pan American Airways. The Clipper Victor would later be destroyed in the Tenerife airport disaster.
There were three deaths during a nine-day air show held at Washington Dulles in conjunction with Transpo '72 (officially called the U.S. International Transportation Exposition, a $10 million event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and attended by over one million visitors from around the world).
On May 29, 1972, the third day of the show, the pilot of a Kite Rider (a variety of hang glider) was killed in a crash. This was to be the first of the three air deaths during the Air Show.
On June 3, 1972, a second death occurred at the Transpo '72 Air Show, during a sport plane pylon race. At 2:40 pm, during the second lap and near a turn about pylon 3, a trailing aircraft's (LOWERS R-1 N66AN) wing and propeller hit the right wing tip of a leading aircraft (CASSUTT BARTH N7017). The right wing immediately sheared off the fuselage, and the damaged aircraft crashed almost instantly, killing the 29-year-old pilot, Hugh C. Alexander. He was a professional Air Racer with over 10,200 hours.
On June 4, 1972, during the last day of the 9-day Transpo '72 Air Show, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds experienced their first fatal crash at an air show. Major Joe Howard flying Thunderbird 3 was killed when his F-4E-32-MC Phantom II, 66-0321, lost power during a vertical maneuver. The pilot broke out of formation just after he completed a wedge roll and was ascending at around 2,500 feet (760 m) AGL. The aircraft staggered and descended in a flat attitude with little forward speed. Although Major Howard ejected as the aircraft fell back to earth from about 1,500 feet (460 m) tail first, and descended under a good canopy, winds blew him into the fireball ascending from the blazing crash site. The parachute melted and the pilot plummeted 200 feet (61 m), sustaining fatal injuries.
On December 1, 1974, while diverting to Washington Dulles, TWA Flight 514 crashed onto the western slope of Mount Weather. All 85 passengers and 7 crew members were killed on impact.
On June 14, 1979, the number 5 and 6 tires on an Air France Concorde blew out during takeoff. Shrapnel thrown from the tires and rims damaged number 2 engine, punctured three fuel tanks, severed several hydraulic lines and electrical wires, in addition to tearing a large hole on the top of the wing, over the wheel well area.
On July 21, 1979, one month after the above tire incident, another Air France Concorde blew several of its landing gear tires during takeoff. After that second incident the "French director general of civil aviation issued an air worthiness directive and Air France issued a Technical Information Update, each calling for revised procedures. These included required inspection of each wheel/tire for condition, pressure and temperature prior to each take-off. In addition, crews were advised that landing gear should not be raised when a wheel/tire problem is suspected."
On November 15, 1979 American Airlines Flight 444 diverted to Dulles Airport instead of its scheduled destination of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport due to the detonation of a small bomb. The bomb detonated incompletely in the cargo hold of the aircraft and resulted in 12 passengers being treated for smoke inhalation. It was later determined this was the third bombing perpetrated by Theodore John Kaczynski aka "The Unabomber." Ultimately it was the involvement of the aircraft in his bombing targets that resulted in the FBI becoming involved with the investigation and search for the "Unabomber."
On June 18, 1994, a Learjet 25 operated by Mexican carrier TAESA crashed in trees while approaching the airport from the south. 12 people died. The passengers were planning to attend the 1994 FIFA World Cup soccer games being staged in Washington, D.C.