Dulles Airport , Washington DC

Washington Dulles International airport, DC, USA

Although Washington National Airport (now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport ) had been open only since 1941, the need for a second airport to serve the National Capital Area had become apparent shortly after the end of World War II. To meet the growing demand for airport capacity, Congress passed the second Washington Airport Act of 1950 (and amended it further in 1958) to provide for ". . . the construction, protection, operation, and maintenance of a public airport in or in the vicinity of the District of Columbia."

International airport code - Dulles Airport : IAD

After a thorough study of many possible locations around the region, a 10,000 acre site, 26 miles west of Washington, D.C., was selected by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958. The site, located in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties in Virginia, was surrounded by open farmland and was far enough from other airports to provide adequate airspace for arriving and departing flights.

The immense size of the new site allowed for an airport, the first in the country designed for commercial jets, to be buffered from its neighbors.  Only 3,000 acres of the 10,000 acres were graded for the new airport and boundaries were established at least 8,000 feet from the end of all runways. In addition, 1.5 million tree seedlings were planted around the perimeter to provide the facility with a 1,000 foot wide "green belt." This planning, in conjunction with the actions of local governments to properly zone the land around the site, helped the new airport to be a good neighbor in the Virginia countryside.

The Terminal Building

In May 1958, the engineering firm of Ammann and Whitney of New York was selected by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (forerunner of today's Federal Aviation Administration) as the prime contractor for the airport planning, design, and construction supervision. Other professional firms associated with Ammann and Whitney included: Eero Saarinen and Associates of Hamden, Connecticut, architect for the design of the terminal building, control tower, and service buildings; Burns and McDonnell of Kansas City, for the design of the mechanical, electrical, and utility installations; and Ellery Husted of Washington, D.C., as the master planning consultant.

Architect Eero Saarinen, wanted to create something more than just another airport -- he wanted to find "the soul of the airport." He designed the terminal building and the control tower in that spirit and called it "the best thing I have ever done." The terminal building was selected for a First Honor Award by the American Institute of Architects in 1966.

The building of the airport started on September 2, 1958, seven and a half months after the site selection. When it opened four years later, in 1962, Dulles International airport had a strikingly beautiful terminal building which would become a landmark to travelers worldwide. The terminal was a compact, two-level structure; 600 feet long and 200 feet wide. While it was built without extensions onto the airfield for aircraft loading, it was designed to be expanded up to 320 feet at either end (this expansion was actually completed 34 years later in 1996). The terminal was "topped off" with a distinctive 193-foot high, glass-enclosed, control tower cab which provided the air traffic controllers with an unobstructed view for many miles in all directions.


When the airport was completed (and after 11.5 million cubic yards of earth excavated), Dulles had two north-south parallel runways, each 11,500 feet long, 150 feet wide, and separated by 6,700 feet and a third northwest-southeast runway, 10,000 feet long and 150 feet wide. All runways had standard instrument landing systems (ILS) for landings, high-speed turnoffs to increase runway availability, and the most modern lighting systems. In addition, all runways had paved shoulders, 25 feet wide, ensuring clean surfaces designed to prevent jet engines from ingesting dirt and debris.

The Mobile Lounges

The concept that made the new airport outstanding and unique from the passenger's view in 1962 was the specially designed mobile lounge, used to transport the passengers between the terminal building and the aircraft parked on a jet ramp ½ mile away from the terminal. The mobile lounge was designed by the Chrysler Corporation in association with the Budd Company.

The mobile lounge was constructed as a 54-foot long, 16-foot wide, 17 1/2-foot high vehicle, and could carry 102 passengers, 71 of them seated, directly from the terminal to the aircraft on the ramp. This protected the passengers from weather, jet noise and blast, and also eliminated long walking distances. Because of the mobile lounge, passengers had to walk only 200 feet once they entered the terminal until they were seated in the lounge for the short trip directly to their aircraft.

Today, Dulles utilizes 19 mobile lounges and 30 plane mates, which are similar to the lounges but can transport passengers from the terminals, directly onto the airplane by attaching itself to the aircraft.

Access Roads

As Dulles was being designed, a complete study was made of the possibility of adjusting plans for future state and federal highways so that the airport would have access to adequate transportation arteries. This did not prove feasible, and the decision was made to construct an access highway as part of the airport development project. FAA, in cooperation with local communities, selected four tentative routes which were the subject of several public hearings. The final selection was a 16-mile route from the airport to a point near Falls Church, Virginia, where it would be connected at a later date to the then proposed Interstate Route 66 and the Capital Beltway. The first 13.5 miles of the highway were built at the time of the original airport construction work, connecting the airport to Routes 495 (the Capital Beltway) and 123 near McLean, Virginia. Upon completion of I-66 through Arlington, Virginia, early in 1983, the Airport Access Highway was extended the last 2.5 miles to connect directly with I-66. The total travel time between downtown Washington and the airport was approximately 30 minutes.

Grand Opening

Dulles International airport was named for the late Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and was formally dedicated by President John F. Kennedy on November 17, 1962(the airport was renamed Washington Dulles International Airport in 1984). The ceremony was attended by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, members of the Dulles family, many dignitaries, and thousands of spectators. The new airport was a symbol of America's stature and progress into the jet age, and was an impressive gateway to the Nation's Capital. An Eastern Airlines Super Electra, on a flight from Newark, New Jersey, was the first commercial aircraft to land at the new airport

The soaring beauty of the new terminal building and the airport's unique mobile lounge operations, impressed the many sightseers, travelers, foreign visitors, and diplomats who came to the airport. Dulles was also one of the first airports in the country to adopt the Accelerated Inspection System where representatives of the U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and U.S. Department of Agriculture work together to process arriving international passengers.

Through the Years

Built to accommodate up to six million passengers a year, Washington Dulles International airport was one of the most modern airports in the world in 1962. As the number of passengers increased, the airport had to grow as well. The first expansion was completed in November 1977 with the widening of the jet parking ramp. In 1982, new passenger waiting areas were added to the upper level and a new baggage make-up area was added below to handle increased airport activity. Midfield Concourses C and D, five cargo buildings, a hotel located on airport property, and economy parking lots were also added through the 1980's. The Main Terminal was expanded in accordance with the original Saarinen design in 1996. In 1998, the first permanent concourse was completed and a concourse for regional aircraft opened in 1999.

From the 52,846 passengers in 1962, to the first million in 1966, passenger traffic continued to grow. Today, Washington Dulles International airport serves more than 55,000 passengers a day and nearly 20 million passengers a year.


1958    Construction of Washington International airport Begins

1962    Construction of main terminal complete

1962    Official operations begin at “Dulles International airport”

1965    Air Cargo Building 1 completed

1966    Dulles handles more than 1 million passengers

1970    Air Cargo Building 2 completed

1972    Air Cargo Building 3 completed

1977    North side of jet ramp expanded

1978    Construction begins on additions to main terminal

1982    First satellite parking lots opens

1983    Access Road extension to I-66 complete

1985    Air Cargo Building 4 opens

1986    Dulles handles more than 10 million passengers

1991     International Arrival Building opens

1992    Construction of Main Terminal expansion begins

1994    Cargo Building 5 opens

1996    Main Terminal expansion completed

1998    First permanent concourse opens with 20 gates

1999    Regional Concourse A opens

2000    20 million passengers travel through Dulles

2002    First Parking Garage opens at Dulles

The Growing Year

Dulles Airport consistently served between two and three million passengers annually from 1969 through 1983, then the true vision of Dulles began to emerge. Dulles served 2.5 million passengers in 1975, compared with 11.7 million at the more established National Airport. With more than five million passengers in 1985 and 10 million in 1987, Dulles was taking its place among the major airports on the East Coast. A decade of slow continued growth prepared the way for the surging numbers in the last few years of the 20th Century. From 1996 to 1999, Dulles passenger numbers increased 65%. In 1999, Dulles served 19.8 million passengers, a 26% increase from 1998 and the airport had nearly 470,000 aircraft operations, a 23% increase compared to just a year earlier. Dulles went from serving 1.4 million international passengers in 1990 to more than 3.5 million in 1999.

During this time, the airport underwent a major Capital Development Program to start to accommodate the growth. The main terminal was expanded in 1996 to meet the original vision of Eero Saarinen. The expanded terminal contains 1.1 million square feet of floor space, mesaures 1,240 feet in length and replicates the curved roofline and glass curtainwall of the original design. Passengers can now benefit from the expanded baggage and ticketing areas and wider arrival and departure roadways. The construction also added a new International Arrivals Building in 1991, improved flight and baggage information display systems, new roadways and overpasses, new aircraft gates and aprons for additional aircraft parking, and taxiway and runway improvements.

In 1998, completion of the first permanent concourse (Concourse B) was completed with 442,000 square feet to serve 20 aircraft positions. Just a year later, a regional concourse (Concourse A) was opened to serve 36 regional aircraft and is attached to Concourse B by a sky bridge, that provides an unbeatable view of Dulles' airfield.

Several new cargo buildings were added throughout the mid 1990's to meet the double digit growth in cargo flying through the airport. Additionally, Dulles increased its parking capacity by 111% in just two years and now has more than 23,000 parking spaces.

Dulles has emerged as one of the fastest growing airports in the world and a major East Coast gateway for domestic and international travelers as well as cargo activities. The airport is achieving the potential its planners had envisioned, and more. Dulles Airport has been an economic engine for the surrounding communities, providing over 15,000 direct jobs and billions of dollars in business revenue. The "Dulles Corridor" is now synonymous with growth and future potential for the region.

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