Dulles Airport is poised for a makeover after 60 years

Comment on this storyCommentAs 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 it hopes will set the stage for its future.Plans for a 14-gate concourse announced earlier this year are part of a broader modernization effort at Dulles, which has long served as the region’s international hub. Shepherding 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 director of the airport last September.Golinowski spoke with The Washington Post about Dulles’ pandemic recovery, plans for future expansion and the benefits of the Silver Line extension. This interview has been lightly edited.Q: How are things these days at Dulles and how close are you to pre-pandemic operations?A: The airport is abuzz with activity. It’s pretty phenomenal how many people are starting to come back and starting to get on a plane to travel. We are approximately 85 percent of where we were in 2019. So we are a little bit ahead of our budget numbers right now. And it looks like going into 2023, we’ll probably be around 90 percent of where we were 2019. About 95 percent of our concessions are open and making money, so we are doing well.Q: What’s fueling the increase in flights? Are carriers coming back and restarting service or are new carriers coming in?A: We have a mixture of both. We have some carriers coming back. The latest 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 carrier. They started domestic service to Jacksonville, Fla., and Austin this past year. And hopefully, if everything goes well, by November, United will start service to Cape Town.More Q & A’s with transportation newsmakersQ: How long have you been running the show 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 at Dulles. But there are a lot of interesting places here at the airport that I never knew existed. And I’m getting the grand tour. Somebody is always showing me something new, so it’s pretty exciting.Q: Dulles is celebrating its 60th year this year. What do you all have planned?A: The 60th anniversary will be on Nov. 17, so we are building up to that. We’re going to have several events that week, including some giveaways to employees and to customers. We’re going to have a dinner event through our Committee for Dulles organization. And you’re starting to see, if you come to the airport, signs and banners announcing the 60th anniversary. We’re going to involve not just the authority employees, 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 everybody is pretty excited.Q: At 60, is Dulles starting to show its age?A: Yes, it is. We’re starting to see some problems in some of our older buildings and we’re addressing those. Obviously, over the past couple of years, we’ve tried to control our budget as much as we could, but now that things are starting to look up, we’re starting to free up some money for maintenance for some of our older infrastructure.Q: There’s been some big news out of Dulles recently. Can you tell me more about the 14-gate concourse and what it’s going to mean for travelers?A: If you’re familiar with the C/D concourse — that’s the United Concourse — when that was built, it was built as a “temporary facility.” Well, it’s been around for 20 or 30 years now. We always had intentions to replace it, so this piece that’s coming, Concourse East, will be the first phase of the revitalization of Dulles Airport. It’s going to be a 14-gate addition that’s going to be built right on top of the C train station. If you’re familiar with this train station today, when you go in and you come out of the train, you have a long walk back to the gate. The new concourse will be built right on top of that train station, so you’ll just pop right up through escalators and elevators right into the concourse.Dulles concourse gets a boost from Biden’s infrastructure lawQ: How long will this take to complete?A: We hope to have it done by 2026.Q: How does this fit into the larger master plan for Dulles?A: After we build this concourse we will then extend it across the airfield over time and ultimately replace the C/D concourse. Right now we are going through the planning process to identify the best way to do that. If you think of it today, it would be one large concourse, parallel to the C/D concourse we have today.Q: How can the public get involved in the planning process for Dulles?A: We are going to have a series of public participation 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 27 and we are getting ready to schedule the next one or two of those public sessions. People can also go to the website and submit questions or 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 it needs to be updated.Q: As the person responsible for managing Dulles, do you hear from passengers about features or services they’d like to see?A: One of the things we constantly hear about is easy access to the gates. So part of the master planning process is trying to figure out how to incorporate [Transportation Security Administration] checkpoint screening areas into our facilities a little bit better. Also, on return flights, we’ll look at how we can help Customs and Border Protection streamline their operations for people coming into the country.Q: How will the opening of the second phase of the Silver Line impact Dulles?A: It’s going to be good for the airport. I think, ultimately, it will bring more employees to the airport than it will passengers. But that’s good. If we can get employees to the airport more easily — transporting them via public transportation rather than driving on the roads every day — I think it’s going to be good for the area.Q: Why won’t more passengers use it? Is it because it’s such a long ride from downtown D. C.?A: I don’t think it’s a time thing. I think it’s quite frankly, it’s a luggage thing. People don’t want to carry luggage on the Metro. They’d rather just drive or take an Uber, take a taxi or have somebody drive them to the airport with their luggage.After a years long slump, Dulles Airport is bouncing backQ: In this region there seems to be some bias against Dulles — that it’s too hard to get to or people just don’t like it. Why do you think that is?A: That’s a good question. I’m hoping that the opening of the Silver Line takes away some of that perception, makes [Dulles] more accessible. But definitely the development that’s occurred down the corridor has really opened up the possibilities for Dulles Airport and its expansion. So I think slowly but surely that sort of mind-set is leaving us.Q: I know right before the pandemic, Dulles was on a roll after lots of years of hand-wringing over its future. At one point National had surpassed Dulles in passenger counts. Do you think Dulles is going to be able to regain that momentum?A: The future is bright here. We have a lot of interest and carriers are coming to the airport. We have a lot of pent-up demand in the region for 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 on size. They can’t grow. We can grow and we’re ready for it.

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