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Washington Dulles International Airport is a public airport located 25 miles (40 km) west of the central business district of Washington, D.C.marker, in Dulles, Virginiamarker (Loudoun Countymarker and Fairfax Countymarker, Virginiamarker, United Statesmarker). It serves the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The airport is named after John Foster Dulles, United States Secretary of State under Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Dulles main terminal is a well-known landmark designed by Eero Saarinen.

Dulles airport occupies of land, straddling the border of Fairfax Countymarker and Loudoun Countymarker, Virginiamarker. It is located within two unincorporated communities, Chantillymarker and Dullesmarker. The airport is west of Herndonmarker and southwest of Sterlingmarker. Dulles airport is operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Dulles is served by nearly a dozen U.S.-flagged carriers and nearly two dozen international carriers. Airlines serving Dulles provide non-stop service to over 80 domestic destinations and to over 40 international destinations. United Airlines maintains its East Coast hub at Dulles and handles 62% of passengers at the airport. JetBlue, which considers Dulles a focus city, handles 6% of passengers, and American Airlines is the airport's third largest carrier and handles 4%. The airport has 143 gates and 14 hard stand locations from which passengers can board or disembark using the airport's trademark PlaneMate airfield vehicles. On a typical day, Dulles sees 1,000 to 1,200 flight operations.

History and background


At the end of World War II, growth in aviation and in the Washington metropolitan area led Congress to pass the Washington Airport Act of 1950, providing federal backing for a second airport. After preliminary proposals failed, including one to establish an international airport at what is now Burke Lake Park, the current site was selected by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958. As a result of the selection, the former unincorporated community of Willardmarker, which once stood in the airport's current footprint, was torn down.

Design and original construction

The civil engineering firm Ammann and Whitney was named lead contractor. The airport was dedicated by President John F. Kennedy on November 17, 1962. 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 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, and additions that more than doubled the terminal's length were built onto each end. The original terminal at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airportmarker in Taipei, Taiwan was modeled after the Saarinen terminal at Dulles.

The original 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 depature traffic and a limited access highway connecting the terminal to the Capitol Beltway (I-495) located approximately 17 miles 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). When the access road was designed, it featured a wide median strip to facilitate the construction of a passenger rail line, which is expected to be completed in 2016.

Notable operations and milestones

  • The first flight at Dulles was an Eastern Air Lines Super Electra turboprop arriving from Newark International Airportmarker in New Jerseymarker.
  • Dulles was initially considered to be a white elephant due to its limited flight destinations in the 1960s and its distance from downtown Washington, but the airport has steadily grown at the same time that suburbs of the city have grown along the Dulles Technology Corridor and the Capital Beltway. Perimeter and slot restrictions placed on flights arriving at and departing from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airportmarker have meant that most long-distance flights to the area must operate at Dulles or Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airportmarker in Maryland.
  • The era of jumbo jets in international aviation began on January 15, 1970, when First Lady Pat Nixon christened a Pan Am Boeing 747 at Dulles in the presence of Pan Am chairman Najeeb Halaby. The event did not feature the traditional champagne bottle christening, instead, red, white, and blue water was sprayed on the aircraft. The first Boeing 747 flight on Pan Am from Dulles was to London Heathrowmarker.
  • Another milestone in aviation took place on May 24, 1976, when supersonic air travel commenced between Dulles and Europe. On that day, a British Airways Concorde flew in from London and an Air France Concorde arrived from Paris. The two sleek aircraft lined up at Dulles nose-to-nose for a photo opportunity.
  • On June 13, 1983, the Space Shuttle Enterprise "landed" at Dulles atop a modified Boeing 747 after completing a European tour and prior to returning to Edwards AFB. In 1985, the Enterprise was placed in a storage hangar near Runway 12/30 pending the construction of the Steven F.marker Udvar-Hazy Centermarker.
  • During the 1980s, a United States Senate resolution to change the name of Washington Dulles to Washington Eisenhower was defeated.
  • When the SR-71 was retired by the military in 1990, one was flown from its birthplace at United States Air Force Plant 42marker in Palmdale, Californiamarker to Dulles, where it was placed in a special storage building pending the construction of the Steven F.marker Udvar-Hazy Centermarker, setting a coast-to-coast speed record at an average 2,124 mph (3,418 km/h). The entire trip took 64 minutes.
  • The inaugural flight of the Boeing 777 in commercial service, a United Airlines flight from London Heathrow, landed at Dulles in 1995.

Planned development

Main Terminal of Dulles International Airport
Construction of Aerotrain Station under the Main Terminal
Since the 1980s, the original design, which had mobile lounges meet each plane, was not 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. An underground 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, to include a new security mezzanine to help relieve the heavily congested security lines that are familiar to passengers traveling through the airport.

There will also be a new train system, dubbed "AeroTrain", which is currently being developed by Mitsubishi. The system, which uses rubber tires and travels along a fixed guideway, is similar to the people mover systems at Singapore Changi Airportmarker and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. The train is intended to replace the mobile lounges, which many passengers find crowded and congested. The initial phase will include a main terminal station, a permanent Concourse B station, temporary access to the temporary C&D concourses (via a tunnel with moving walkways from the future permanent midfield concourse station), and a maintenance facility. Moving lounges will continue to serve the far end of the B Concourse as well as the D Concourse end of the midfield terminal. Dulles has stated that the wait time for a train will not exceed two minutes, compared to the average 15-minute wait and travel time for mobile lounges today.

Also, 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. An expansion of the B concourse, which is used by many low cost airlines as well as international arrivals, has been completed, and the "Midfield Concourses" (C and D) mainly house United Airlines, and will eventually be knocked down to make room for a more ergonomic building.


The main terminal houses ticketing, baggage claim, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Z gates, and other support facilities. From here, passengers can take mobile lounges to their concourses, "plane mates" directly to their airplanes, or take the passenger walkway to concourse B. The plane mates are also used to transport passengers arriving on international flights directly to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection center located in the main terminal. The terminal cost US$108.3 million and has 143 gates total.

Dulles is one of the few remaining airports to use the "mobile lounges" and "plane mates" for boarding and disembarkation from aircraft, to transfer passengers between the midfield concourses and to and from the main terminal building. They have all been given names based on the postal abbreviations of 50 states, e.g.: VA, MD, AK The MWAA plans to retire the mobile lounge system for inter-terminal passenger movements in favor of an underground people mover and pedestrian walkway system (now in service to concourse B). However, some plane mates will remain in use to disembark international passengers and carry them to the International Arrivals Building, as well as to convey passengers to and from aircraft on hard stand (i.e., those parked remotely on the tarmac without access to jet bridges).

Main terminal

The terminal ceiling is suspended in a catenary curve above the luggage check-in area.
The main terminal was recognized by the American Institute of Architectsmarker in 1966 for its design concept; its roof is a suspended catenary providing a wide enclosed area unimpeded by any columns. It houses ticketing, baggage claim, and information facilities, as well as the International Arrivals Building for passenger processing.

Although the original design is still intact, the increase in low-cost carriers and increased security requirements have caused functional problems, with long lines at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints and crowded conditions in the once more-than-adequate ticketing area occurring during peak periods. During busy travel seasons, the checkpoint line can wrap around the entire ticketing area. In these instances, getting from the end of the line to the front can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes. Separate security screening lines allow "premium passengers" to move through security faster, and "Dulles Diamond" lanes are available for experienced travelers who self-select to use them. In September 2009, a 121,700 sq ft security checkpoint was added on the lower level of the main terminal to supplement the screening on the main level.

The main terminal was extended in 1996 to — Saarinen's original design length — which was slightly more than double its originally constucted length of . In addition, an extension for international arrivals was added to the west of the main terminal in 1991. On September 22, 2009, an expansion of the international arrivals building opened which includes a 41,400 sq ft arrival hall for customs and immigration processing. The new facility has the capacity to process 2,400 arriving passengers per hour.

There are two sets of gates in the main terminal: waiting areas for airlines which lack permanent physical gates and therefore use plane mates to reach planes parked at hard-stand locations, and the "Z" Gates, which provide service for US Airways.

Midfield terminals

There are two midfield terminal buildings: One contains the A and B Midfield Concourses, another the C and D Midfield Concourses. The C and D Concourses, completed in 1983, were designed to be a temporary home for United Airlines, which began hub operations at the airport in 1985. Their replacements are under development. The B Concourse is the first of the permanent Midfield Concourses. It is connected to the main terminal by an underground walkway in addition to the mobile lounges.

Airlines and Destinations

Airline lounges

Airlines who do not operate a lounge of their own are offered access to lounges of partner airlines.

Transportation to and from the airport

Dulles is accessible via the Dulles Access Road (State Route 267) and State Route 28.

Loudoun Countymarker Transit provides bus service which runs from the Dulles Town Centermarker shopping center, to the airport, then to the Steven F.marker Udvar-Hazy Centermarker Air and Space Museum.

, the only Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority service to Dulles is the "express" 5A Metrobus route. The 5A express bus makes two to three stops on its way from the airport to downtown Washington, depending on the time of day: stops include the Herndon–Monroe transfer station in Herndon and the Rosslyn Metro stationmarker in Arlington. The latter can be accessed by the Orange/Blue lines. The 950 Fairfax Connector bus brings passengers from Reston to the Herndon–Monroe transfer station, where they can switch to the 5A bus to the airport. The RIBS 2 Fairfax Connector bus also connects Reston passengers to the Herndon–Monroe transfer point. An alternative (and more expensive) way of reaching Dulles is the Washington Flyer Coach bus service that operates roughly every thirty minutes between the airport and the West Falls Church Metro stationmarker.

Passengers connecting to the Shenandoah Valley can use the Shenandoah Valley Commuter Bus, which connects to the Vienna and Rosslyn Metro station. Taxis and SuperShuttle ride sharing vans are also available.

Construction is now underway to connect the airport to Washington via the Silver Line of the Washington Metromarker by 2016.

Accidents and incidents

Control Tower view of IAD.
On December 1, 1974, a flight diverted to Dulles, TWA Flight 514marker, crashed into Mount Weathermarker.

On June 18, 1994, a Learjet 25 operated by Mexican carrier TAESA crashed in trees while approaching the airport from the south. Twelve people died. The passengers were planning to attend the 1994 FIFA World Cup soccer games being staged in Washington, D.C. The area where the aircraft crashed remains clear except for a small playground.

American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757, left gate D26 at Dulles en route to Los Angeles, CAmarker, but it was hijacked and it crashed into the Pentagonmarker as part of the September 11 attacks.

In fiction

Dulles has been the backdrop for many Washington based movies, starting shortly after the airport opened with the 1964 film Seven Days in May.

The 1983 comedy film D.C. Cab,starring Mr. T, Adam Baldwin and Gary Busey showed scenes outside of the main terminal at Dulles Airport.

The action movie Die Hard 2: Die Harder is set primarily at Dulles airport. The plot of the film involves the takeover of the airport's tower and communication systems by terrorists, led by Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), who subsequently uses the equipment to prevent airliners from landing, demonstrating the consequences by fooling one jet into crashing onto a runway. It is up to former NYPD cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) who is currently with the LAPD, to stop them from downing more planes, one of which has his wife aboard. The film was not shot at Dulles; the stand-ins were Los Angeles International Airportmarker (LAX) and the now-closed Stapleton International Airportmarker in Denvermarker. An often-noted inconsistency is the existence of Pacific Bell pay phones in the main terminal (the telephone company that served Dulles at the time was GTE and the nearest PacBell territory was thousands of miles away).

Part of the thriller The Package (starring Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones) took place at Dulles. However, the Dulles stand-in this time was Chicagomarker's O'Hare International Airportmarker.
Dulles airport's terminal exterior

Portions of all three sequels to the disaster film Airport were filmed at Dulles: Airport 1975, with Charlton Heston, Karen Black and George Kennedy; Airport '77, with Jack Lemmon, Christopher Lee and George Kennedy; and The Concorde: Airport '79.

Dulles has also served as a stand-in for a New York City airport, in the 1999 comedy, Forces of Nature. While set in a New York airport, the main terminal is recognizable.

Dulles is featured in several episodes the television series The X-Files.

See also


  7. [1]

External links

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