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Dulles International Airport


Dulles International Airport

Washington Dulles International Airport
Airport type Public
Owner/Operator Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
Serves Washington Metropolitan Area
Location Dulles, Virginia
Hub for United Airlines
Elevation AMSL 313 ft / 95 m
Coordinates 38°56′40″N 077°27′21″W / 38.94444°N 77.45583°W / 38.94444; -77.45583Coordinates: 38°56′40″N 077°27′21″W / 38.94444°N 77.45583°W / 38.94444; -77.45583

Location in Virginia
Direction Length Surface
ft m
1L/19R 9,400 2,865 Concrete
1C/19C 11,500 3,505 Concrete
1R/19L 11,500 3,505 Concrete
12/30 10,500 3,200 Concrete
12R/30L 10,500 3,200 Planned
Source: Federal Aviation Administration[1]

Washington Dulles International Airport (IATA: IADICAO: KIADFAA LID: IAD) is a public airport in Dulles, Virginia, 26 miles (41.6 km) west of downtown Washington, D.C.[2] The airport serves the Washington-Baltimore-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)[3] straddling the border of Fairfax County and Loudoun County, Virginia.[1]

Dulles lies in two unincorporated communities, Chantilly and Dulles, west of Herndon and southwest of Sterling. Washington Dulles Airport is the busiest airport in the Washington Metropolitan Area, and second busiest airport in the larger Baltimore–Washington Metropolitan Area (after BWI Airport) with over 22 million passengers a year.[4][5] On a typical day, more than 60,000 passengers pass through Washington Dulles to and from more than 125 destinations around the world.[4][6]



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 unincorporated community of Willard, which once stood in the airport's current footprint, was demolished.[7]

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.[8] 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 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 and is expected to be completed in 2018.

Notable operations and milestones

  • In 1990 a United States Senate joint resolution to change the name of Washington Dulles to Washington Eisenhower was proposed by Senator Dole, but didn't pass.[11]
  • 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 to await display.[12]
  • The first flight of the Boeing 777 in commercial service, a United Airlines flight from London Heathrow, landed at Dulles in 1995.[13]

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.[18] The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) began a renovation program for the airport including a new security mezzanine with more room for lines.[19]

A new train system, dubbed AeroTrain and developed by Mitsubishi, began in 2010 to transport passengers between the concourses and the main terminal.[20] The system, which uses rubber tires and travels along a fixed underground guideway,[20] is similar to the people mover systems at Singapore Changi Airport,[20] 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.[20] 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.[21] A fourth runway (parallel to the existing runways 1 and 19 L&R) opened in 2008,[22] and development plans include a fifth runway to parallel the existing runway 12–30.[23] 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.[24]


United Airlines maintains one of two East Coast hubs at Dulles which handled 56.7% of scheduled air carrier passengers at the airport.[25] 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%.[25] In addition, 24 foreign carriers have service in and out of Washington Dulles. On a typical day, Dulles averages 1,000 to 1,200 flight operations.[26] Dulles International served 22.6 million passengers in 2012, a 2.8% decrease over 2011. However international passenger traffic has increased by 2.0% during the same time frame.[27] Additional international service is commencing service at Washington Dulles. With 43-weekly flights with various carriers, Dulles is now the second largest United States gateway to the Middle East. 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.

Busiest International Routes from Dulles (2010-2011)[28]
Rank Airport Passengers Carriers
1 London (Heathrow), United Kingdom 990,010 British Airways, United, Virgin Atlantic
2 Frankfurt, Germany 666,888 Lufthansa, United
3 Paris (Charles de Gaulle), France 480,008 Air France, United
4 Tokyo (Narita), Japan 300,391 All Nippon, United
5 Amsterdam, Netherlands 288,810 KLM, United
6 Munich, Germany 228,328 Lufthansa, United
7 Doha, Qatar 177,248 Qatar Airways
8 San Salvador, El Salvador 175,137 TACA Airlines
9 Toronto (Pearson), Canada 162,576 United
10 São Paulo (Guarulhos), Brazil 156,735 United
Busiest Domestic Routes from Dulles (February 2012 – January 2013)[29]
Rank Airport Passengers Carriers
1 Los Angeles, California 627,000 American, United, Virgin America
2 San Francisco, California 620,000 United, Virgin America
3 Denver, Colorado 455,000 Southwest, United
4 Atlanta, Georgia 369,000 AirTran, Delta, United
5 Boston, Massachusetts 290,000 JetBlue, United
6 Chicago (O'Hare), Illinois 271,000 United
7 Orlando, Florida 249,000 Jetblue, United
8 Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas 222,000 American, United
9 Chicago (Midway), Illinois 199,000 Southwest
10 Charlotte, North Carolina 195,000 United, US Airways
Largest Carriers at Dulles (December 2011 to November 2012)[30]
Rank Airline Passengers
1 United Airlines 8,939,961
2 ExpressJet Airlines (Delta Connection, United Express) 2,144,664
3 Mesa Airlines (United Express, US Airways Express) 1,080,831
4 Colgan Air (Continental Connection, United Express) 861,507
5 American Airlines 786,170
6 JetBlue Airways 694,483
7 Southwest Airlines 619,105
8 Trans States Airlines (United Express) 578,521
9 Delta Air Lines 552,263
10 Virgin America 494,117
Traffic by calendar year[4]
Year Passengers Change from
previous year
Aircraft operations Cargo
1999 19,797,329 465,195 395,981
2000 20,104,693 Increase1.55% 456,436 423,197
2001 18,002,319 Decrease10.46% 396,886 364,833
2002 17,235,163 Decrease4.26% 372,636 358,171
2003 16,950,381 Decrease1.65% 335,397 314,601
2004 22,868,852 Increase34.92% 469,634 342,521
2005 27,052,118 Increase18.29% 509,652 334,071
2006 23,020,362 Decrease14.90% 379,571 386,785
2007 24,737,528 Increase7.46% 382,943 395,377
2008 23,876,780 Decrease3.48% 360,292 368,064
2009 23,213,341 Decrease2.78% 340,367 358,535
2010 23,741,603 Increase2.28% 336,531 366,333
2011 23,211,856 Decrease2.22% 327,493 333,683
2012 22,561,521 Decrease2.80% 312,070 302,766


The airport's terminal complex consists of a main terminal and two midfield terminal buildings: Concourses A/B and C/D. The entire terminal complex has 123 gates and 16 hardstand locations[32] from which passengers can board or disembark using the airport's plane mate vehicles.[3]

Dulles is one of the few remaining airports to use the mobile lounge (also known as "plane mates" or "people movers") for boarding and disembarkation from aircraft, and 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 Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has begun to gradually phase out the mobile lounge system for inter-terminal passenger movements in favor of AeroTrain, an underground people mover which currently operates to Concourses A, B and C, and a 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).[33][34]

Main terminal

The main terminal (which houses ticketing, baggage claim, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Z gates, and other support facilities) 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).[32] 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.[35]

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.[36] A separate security checkpoint is available on the baggage claim level. 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 16 hard-stand locations, which are referred to as the "H" Gates, and the "Z" Gates (with 4 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.

Concourse A (which has 47 gates) consists of a permanent ground level set of gates designed for small planes such as regional jets and several former B concourse gates.[37] Concourse B (which has 28 gates) 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.[38] It is connected to the main terminal by an underground walkway in addition to the AeroTrain.

The C and D concourses (with each concourse containing 22 gates), completed in 1983 and designed by Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum,[39] were originally designed as a temporary base for United Airlines, which began hub operations at the airport in 1985.[40] 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.[40] This building also has a dedicated Federal Inspection Station ("FIS") for arriving United and certain Star Alliance-member airlines' international passengers to clear U.S. Customs prior to connecting to subsequent flights. Since this immigration facility is only for connecting passengers on United and its partners' flights, it has shorter lines and passengers don't have to clear security at the massive TSA checkpoint 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.[40] 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.[40]

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) or at the Concourse C Federal Inspection Station (FIS) for United passengers with connecting flights.

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.


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.[44] 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 a 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.

Fairfax Connector service to Dulles is through via route 981; from Tysons Corner to Reston then to Herndon.

As of 2012, the only Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority service to Dulles is the "Express" 5A Metrobus route. The 5A express bus makes two stops on its way from the airport to downtown Washington. Stops include the Herndon–Monroe park & ride lot in Herndon and the Rosslyn Metro station in Arlington. It terminates at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station in Southwest DC. 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 (but slightly more expensive)[45] 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.[46]


Construction is now underway to connect the airport to Washington via the Silver Line of the Washington Metro.[47] Initial plans called for completion of the station in 2016, however officials now expect to complete construction in 2018.[48][49]

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.[50]
  • 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.[51][52] This was to be the second of three air deaths during the ill-fated Air Show.[50]
  • 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. [53] This was to be the third of three air deaths during the ill-fated Air Show.[50]
  • On December 1, 1974, a flight diverted to Dulles, TWA Flight 514, crashed onto the western slope of Mount Weather.[54] All 85 passengers and 7 crew members were killed on impact.
  • 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.[55] The passengers were planning to attend the 1994 FIFA World Cup soccer games being staged in Washington, D.C.


  • On June 14, 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.[56]
  • 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.”[56]
  • 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.[57]

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 is set primarily at Dulles. The plot of the film involves the takeover of the airport's tower and communication systems by terrorists working out of a fictitious church on the west side of the airport (in the space north of Runway 12–30 and west of Runway 1L-19R). 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). Other inconsistencies include the fact that Dulles appears to have its own airport police, when the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority had provided police service at Dulles for two years when the movie had been made; and the fact that there is no church anywhere close enough to be sitting on top of underground airport utility lines.

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.[58]

The airport is also shown momentarily in the film Body of Lies.[59] 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 In the Line of Fire starring Clint Eastwood.

In the 2004 video game Need for Speed Underground 2, Bayview International Airport has a similar layout to Dulles Airport.

See also


External links

  • Official Dulles Food and Shops Concessions website
  • openNav: IAD / KIAD charts
  • PDF), effective July 24, 2014
  • Resources for this airport:
    • AirNav airport information for KIAD
    • ASN accident history for IAD
    • FlightAware live flight tracker
    • NOAA/NWS latest weather observations
    • SkyVector aeronautical chart for KIAD
    • FAA current IAD delay information

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