Dulles Airport is ready for a makeover after 60 years

Dulles Airport is ready for a makeover after 60 years
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As Dulles International Airport emerges from a global pandemic and prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary this year, the airport is laying the groundwork for a makeover that it hopes sets the stage for its future.

Plans for a 14-door lobby announced earlier this year are part of a broader modernization effort at Dulles, long the region’s international hub. Pastoring the airport through that process is Richard Golinowski, who worked in various roles at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority for more than two decades. He was appointed airport director last September.

Golinowski spoke with The Washington Post about Dulles’ recovery from the pandemic, plans for future expansion, and the benefits of the Silver Line extension. This interview has been lightly edited.

Q: How are things at Dulles these days, and how close is it to pre-pandemic operations?

A: The airport is buzzing with activity. It’s pretty phenomenal how many people are starting to come back and start getting on a plane to travel. We’re about 85 percent of where we were in 2019. So we’re a little bit ahead of our budget numbers right now. And it looks like by 2023, we’ll probably be about 90 percent of where we were in 2019. About 95 percent of our concessions are open and making money, so we’re doing well.

Q: What is driving the increase in flights? Are carriers coming back and restarting service or are new carriers coming in?

A: We have a mix of both. We have some returning carriers. The last one was Iberia going to Madrid. They had been with us a few years ago. But our existing carriers are adding service. United added Amman, Jordan; Ethiopian added Lomé, Togo; and Avianca added Costa Rica. Allegiant is another new operator. They began domestic service to Jacksonville, Fla. and Austin last year. And hopefully, if all goes well, by November, United will start operating in Cape Town.

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Q: How long have you been running the program at Dulles?

A: It’s been about 11 months. I’ve been with the authority for about 27 years, so I knew a lot of people here in Dulles. But there are so many cool places here at the airport that I never knew existed. And I’m getting the grand tour. There’s always someone showing me something new, so it’s pretty exciting.

Q: Dulles is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. What does everyone have planned?

A: The 60th anniversary will be on November 1. 17, so we’re preparing for that. We will have several events that week, including some giveaways for employees and customers. We will be having a dinner event through our Committee for Dulles organization. And you start to see, if you come to the airport, posters and banners announcing the 60th anniversary. We are going to involve not only the employees of the authority, but also all the people who work at the airport on a day-to-day basis. We have about 14,000 people who work here at the airport supporting operations and everyone is very excited.

Q: At 60, is Dulles starting to show his age?

A: Yes it is. We are beginning to see some issues in some of our older buildings and we are addressing them. Obviously, over the last couple of years, we’ve tried to control our budget as much as we can, but now that things are starting to look up, we’re starting to free up some money for maintenance on some of our older infrastructure. .

Q: There has been some big news from Dulles recently. Can you tell me more about the 14 gate concourse and what it will mean for travellers?

A: If you’re familiar with Concourse C/D, that’s the United Concourse, when it was built it was built as a “temporary facility.” Well, it’s been around for 20 or 30 years. We always intended to replace it, so this upcoming piece, Concourse East, will be the first phase of Dulles Airport’s revitalization. It will be a 14 gate addition to be built right above the C train station. If you are familiar with this train station today, when you get in and out of the train, you have a long way back to the gate. The new concourse will be built right on top of that train station, so you will simply go up via the escalators and elevators to the concourse.

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Q: How long will it take to complete this?

A: We hope to have it done by 2026.

Q: How does this fit into the larger Dulles master plan?

A: After we build this concourse, we will extend it across the airfield over time, eventually replacing concourse C/D. We are currently going through the planning process to identify the best way to do this. If you think about it today, it would be a large esplanade, parallel to the C/D esplanade that we have today.

Q: How can the public get involved in the Dulles planning process?

A: We’re going to have a series of public engagement venues or events, where people can come and see what our preliminary plan is and what our long-term plan is. The first one was held on April 27th and we are preparing to schedule the next one or two of those public sessions. People can also go to website and submit questions, concerns, or comments about our master plan. It’s also important to note that the last time we did a master plan was in 1985. So the existing plan is 37 years old and needs to be updated.

Q: As the person responsible for managing Dulles, do you listen to passengers about features or services they would like to see?

A: One of the things we constantly hear about is the easy access doors. So part of the master planning process is trying to figure out how to incorporate [Transportation Security Administration] checkpoint screening areas in our facilities a little better. Also, on the return flights, we will look at how we can help Customs and Border Protection streamline their operations for people entering the country.

Q: How will the opening of the second phase of the Silver Line affect Dulles?

A: It will be good for the airport. I think ultimately it will bring more employees to the airport than passengers. But this is good. If we can make it easier for employees to get to the airport by taking public transportation instead of driving on the highways every day, I think it will be good for the area.

Q: Why won’t more passengers use it? Is it because it’s such a long drive from downtown DC?

A: I don’t think it’s a matter of time. I think it’s frankly, it’s a baggage issue. People don’t want to carry luggage on the Metro. They prefer to just drive or take an Uber, take a taxi, or have someone drive them to the airport with their luggage.

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Q: There seems to be a certain bias in this region against Dulles: that it’s too hard to get to, or that people just don’t like it. Why do you think it is?

A: Good question. I hope that the opening of the Silver Line removes some of that perception, makes [Dulles] more accessible. But definitely, the development that has occurred in the corridor has really opened up the possibilities for Dulles Airport and its expansion. So I think slowly but surely that kind of mentality is leaving us.

Q: I know that just before the pandemic, Dulles was on a roll after many years of wringing their hands about their future. At one point, National had overtaken Dulles in ridership. Do you think Dulles will be able to regain that momentum?

A: The future is bright here. We have a lot of interest and carriers are arriving at the airport. We have a lot of pent up demand in the region to travel, and this is the place to do it. And we have very good infrastructure to accommodate more flights and more passengers. We can handle it, unlike National, which is somewhat landlocked and restricted in size. They can’t grow. We can grow and we are prepared for it.

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