Washington Dulles International Airport

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Washington Dulles International Airport (IATA: IAD, ICAO: KIAD, FAA LID: IAD) is a public airport in Dulles, Virginia, 26 miles (41.6 km) west of downtown Washington, D.C. The airport serves the Baltimore-Washington-Northern Virginia metropolitan area centered on the District of Columbia. It is named after John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Dulles main terminal is a well-known landmark designed by Eero Saarinen.

Operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Dulles Airport occupies 11,830 acres (47.9 km2) straddling the border of Fairfax County and Loudoun County, Virginia.

It is in two unincorporated communities, Chantilly and Dulles, west of Herndon and southwest of Sterling. Washington Dulles Airport is the largest airport in the Washington metropolitan area, and is one of the nation's busiest airports with over 23 million passengers a year. Daily, more than 60,000 passengers depart Washington Dulles to more than 125 destinations around the world. Dulles is the busiest airport in Virginia as well as the busiest in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area.


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 Willard, which once stood in the airport's current footprint, was demolished.

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. Additions at both ends of the main terminal more than doubled the structure's length. The original terminal at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, 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 Metrorail and is expected to be completed in 2017.

Notable operations and milestones
  • The first flight at Dulles was an Eastern Air Lines Super Electra turboprop arriving from Newark International Airport in New Jersey on November 19, 1962.
  • Dulles was initially considered to be a white elephant, being far out of town and having few destinations; in 1965 (before Washington National allowed jets) it averaged 89 airline operations a day while DCA averaged 600. But the airport has grown as Virginian suburbs have grown along the Dulles Technology Corridor and the Capital Beltway. To promote growth, perimeter and slot restrictions on flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport have forced most long-distance flights to use Dulles.
  • The era of jumbo jets 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. Rather than use a traditional champagne bottle christening, red, white, and blue water was sprayed on the aircraft. The first Boeing 747 flight on Pan Am from Dulles was to London Heathrow.
  • Another milestone was 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 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. Udvar-Hazy Center. It has since been moved into the museum.
  • In 1990, a United States Senate joint resolution to change the name of Washington Dulles to Washington Eisenhower was proposed by Senator Dole, but never passed.
  • 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, where it was placed in a special storage building pending the construction of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, setting a coast-to-coast speed record at an average 2,124 mph (3,418 km/h). The 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.
  • In December 2003, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum opened the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles. The museum annex houses an Air France Concorde, the Enola Gay B-29, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the Boeing 367-80, which was the prototype of the Boeing 707, and other famous aerospace artifacts, particularly those too large for the main building on the National Mall.
  • On April 19, 2006, United Express began moving its operations from Concourse G to Concourse A. The latter had been used by now-defunct Independence Air, which ceased operations on January 6, 2006. The transition was completed on May 1, 2006. Concourse G was later demolished.
  • The launch of low-cost carrier Independence Air in 2004 propelled IAD from being the 24th busiest airport in the United States to 4th, and one of the top 30 busiest in the world. Independence Air ceased operations in January 2006. Southwest Airlines began service at Dulles in fall 2006. In 2006, Dulles ranked 29th in 2006 in traffic movements. In 2007, 24.7 million passengers passed through the airport.
  • On June 6, 2011, Air France began service using the Airbus A380 on its Paris Charles de Gaulle airport to Washington Dulles International Airport route.
Planned development

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 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 the A Concourse. Mobile lounges will continue to transport international arrivals to the IAB facility. 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. An expansion of the B concourse, 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. 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 2010, United Airlines maintained its East Coast hub at Dulles and handled 56.7% of scheduled air carrier passengers at the airport.JetBlue handled 6.8% of scheduled air carrier passengers, and American Airlines is the airport's third largest carrier in terms of tickets sold and handled 5.4%. On a typical day, Dulles sees 1,000 to 1,200 flight operations. Dulles International served 23.7 million passengers in 2010, a 2.3 percent increase over 2009.

More international and low-cost airlines are commencing service at Washington Dulles, and traffic in 2010 is rebounding from the loss in passengers due to the late-2000s recession and the September 11, 2001 attacks. In summer 2010 Washington Dulles served 49,000 more passengers than for the same month of the previous year. Nonetheless, even before the United States economic recession started, international passengers have continued to grow, which prompted the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to expand the international arrivals building to handle 2,400 passengers per hour.


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 the Aerotrain or mobile lounges to their concourses, "plane mates" directly to their airplanes, or take the undeground passenger walkway to concourse A/B. The plane mates/mobile lounges are also used to transport passengers arriving on international flights directly to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection center located in the International Arrivals Building adjacent to the west side of the main terminal. The terminal cost US$108.3 million, and has 143 gates and 14 hardstand locations from which passengers can board or disembark using the airport's plane mate vehicles.

Dulles is one of the few remaining airports to use the "mobile lounges" (also known as "plane mates" or "people movers") 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 Airport Authority has begun to gradually phase out the mobile lounge system for inter-terminal passenger movements in favor of the underground people mover, which currently operates to concourses A, B and C and pedestrian walkway system (now in service to concourse A/B). The plane mates are still used to transport passengers to the D terminal. Plane mates will also 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 apron without access to jet bridges).

Main terminal

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. It houses ticketing, baggage claim, and information facilities, as well as the International Arrivals Building for passenger processing.

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). 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 square feet (3,850 m2) arrival hall for customs and immigration processing. The new facility has the capacity to process 2,400 arriving passengers per hour.

In September 2009, a 121,700 square feet (11,310 m2) central Transportation Security Administration checkpoint was added on a new security mezzanine level of the main terminal. This checkpoint replaced previous checkpoints located behind the ticketing areas. A separate "Dulles Diamond" security checkpoint is available on the baggage claim level for expert adult travelers traveling alone who are security-ready. Both security checkpoints connect to the new AeroTrain, which links the main terminal with the A, B, and C concourses.

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, which are referred to as the "H" Gates, and the "Z" Gates, which provide service for US Airways.

Midfield terminals

There are two midfield terminal buildings at Washington Dulles: One contains the A and B midfield concourses, the other the C and D midfield concourses. The C and D concourses, completed in 1983, were originally designed as a temporary base for United Airlines, which began hub operations at the airport in 1985. The C/D terminal was 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. A new and permanent C/D terminal (also called "Tier 2") is planned as part of the D2 Dulles Development Project. The new terminal 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. However, due to the oil price hikes and the recession, the design and construction of the new C/D terminal has not been scheduled as of November, 2010. The A Concourse consists of a permanent ground level set of gates designed for small planes such as commuter jets and some former B concourse gates. The B Concourse is the first of the permanent elevated midfield concourses. It is connected to the main terminal by an underground walkway in addition to the AeroTrain.

Airlines and destinations
  • Note: Flights from inside the United States, as well as flights from airports with U.S. border preclearance are serviced directly at the concourses. Flights arriving from any other airport are processed through the International Arrivals Building (IAB).
Airline lounges

Since many major domestic and international airlines have a large presence at Washington Dulles, there are several airline lounges in active operation there.

  • Air France: Air France Lounge, A Concourse across from gate A22.
  • All Nippon Airways: ANA Lounge First, B Concourse, uses Lufthansa's lounge at gate B51.
  • American Airlines: Admirals Club, B Concourse.
  • British Airways: Terraces Lounge and First Class Lounge, B Concourse.
  • Lufthansa: Senator Lounge and Business Lounge, B Concourse at gate B51.
  • United Airlines: Three Red Carpet Clubs, two in C Concourse, one in D Concourse.
  • United Airlines: United International First Lounge, C Concourse.
  • Virgin Atlantic Airways: Clubhouse, A Concourse across from gate A32

Delta does not use a lounge. Passengers flying Delta internationally may use Air France's lounge across from A-22

Ground transportation

Dulles is accessible via the Dulles Access Road/Dulles Greenway (State Route 267) and State Route 28. The Dulles Airport Access Highway (DAAH) is a toll-free, limited access, highway owned by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to facilitate car access to Dulles from the Washington 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.

Mass transportation

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

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.

As of 2010, the only Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority service to Dulles is the "Express" 5A Metrobus route. The 5A express bus makes four or five stops on its way from the airport to downtown Washington, depending on the time of day. Stops include the Herndon–Monroe park & ride lot in Herndon, the Tysons-Westpark transit station in Mclean, the Rosslyn Metro station in Arlington, and the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station. Both metro stations can be accessed by the Orange and Blue lines, while the latter can also be accessed by the Yellow and Green 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 station.

Construction is now underway to connect the airport to Washington via the Silver Line of the Washington Metro. Initial plans called for completion in 2016, however officials now expect to complete construction in 2017.

Accidents and incidents
  • On May 29, 1972, the pilot of a Kite Rider (a variety of hang glider) was killed in a crash. This was during day 3 of a 9 day Air Show held at 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). This was to be the first of three air deaths during the ill-fated 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 of Louisville, GA USA. 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 US Air Force Thunderbirds experienced their first fatal crash at an air show. Major Joe Howard flying Thunderbird 3 was killed at Dulles when his F-4E-32-MC Phantom II, 66-0321, experienced a loss of 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 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, sustaining fatal injuries. Adding to the sadness of three deaths at the Transpo '72 Air Show, Joe Howard left behind not only his wife, Sue, but also his one-day old son, John.
  • On December 1, 1974, a flight diverted to Dulles, TWA Flight 514, crashed into Mount Weather.
  • 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.
  • On June 13, 1979, the number 5 and 6 tires on an Air France Concorde blew out during a take-off from Washington Dulles Airport. 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, another blown tire incident involving an Air France Concorde occurred during take-off from Washington Dulles Airport. 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.”
  • In 2001, American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757, left gate D26 at Dulles en route to Los Angeles International Airport, but it was hijacked and deliberately crashed into the Pentagon 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 film 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. The film was not shot at Dulles; the stand-ins were Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the now-closed Stapleton International Airport in Denver. 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 Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

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 of the television series The X-Files.

The airport is also shown momentarily in the film Body of Lies. In the scene, Leonardo DiCaprio mentions he is in "Dubai International" on the phone, although one can clearly see the iconic curved roof and concave entry windows on the upper deck of the Dulles departures area in the background behind him.

The terminal can also be seen in the hit movie 'In The Line of Fire' starring Clint Eastwood.


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