Dulles Airport is ready for a makeover after 60 years


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 it hopes will set the stage for the future.

Plans for a 14-gate runway 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 this 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 in September last year.

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?

ONE: 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 going into 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 air travel? Are operators coming back and restarting the service, or are new operators coming in?

ONE: We have a mix of both. We have some carriers coming back. The last one was Iberia which was going to Madrid. They had been with us a few years ago. But our existing operators 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, Florida and Austin this past year. And hopefully, if all goes well, by November, United will start service to Cape Town.

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

ONE: It has been about 11 months. I’ve been in government for about 27 years, so I knew a lot of people here at Dulles. But there are many interesting places here at the airport that I never knew existed. And I get the grand tour. Someone always shows me something new, so it’s pretty exciting.

Q: Dulles celebrates 60 years this year. What do you all have planned?

ONE: The 60th anniversary is on 17 November, so we are building up to that. We will have several events that week, including some giveaways for staff and customers. We will have a dinner event through our Committee for Dulles organization. And you start to see, if you get to the airport, signs and banners announcing the 60th anniversary. We will involve not only the government employees, but also all those who work at the airport on a daily basis. We have about 14,000 people working here at the airport supporting operations and everyone is pretty excited.

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

ONE: Yes, it is. We are starting to see some issues in some of our older buildings and we are addressing them. Obviously, for the last couple of years we’ve tried to control our budget as much as we could, but now that things are looking up, we’re starting to free up 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 hall of 14 gates and what it will mean for travelers?

ONE: If you’re familiar with the C/D concourse – 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 now. We’ve always had intentions of replacing it, so this piece coming up, Concourse East, will be the first phase of the revitalization of Dulles Airport. There will be a 14-gate addition to be built right on top of the C train station. If you are familiar with this train station today, when you enter and you exit 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 straight up through escalators and elevators right into the concourse.

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Q: How long will this take to complete?

ONE: We hope to have it done by 2026.

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

ONE: After we build this concourse, we will extend it over the airport over time and eventually replace the C/D concourse. Right now we are going through the planning process to find the best way to do that. If you think about it today, it would be one big plant, parallel to the C/D plant we have today.

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

ONE: We will have a number of venues or events for public participation, where people can come and see what our preliminary plan is and what our long-term plan is. The first was held on April 27th, and we are getting ready to schedule the next one or two of these public sessions. People can also go to the website and submit questions or concerns or comments about our master plan. It is also important to note that the last time we created 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 would like to see?

ONE: One of the things we keep hearing about is easy access to the gates. So part of the master planning process is trying to figure out how to incorporate that [Transportation Security Administration] checkpoint screening areas into our facilities a little better. On return flights, we will also 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 affect Dulles?

ONE: It will be good for the airport. I think ultimately will bring more employees to the airport than passengers. But that’s good. If we can get employees to the airport more easily – transport them via public transport instead of 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 walk from downtown DC?

ONE: I don’t think it’s about time. I think it’s quite honestly, it’s a baggage thing. People do not want to carry luggage on the subway. They would rather 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: In this region, there seems to be some bias against Dulles – that it’s too hard to get to, or that people just don’t like it. Why do you think that is?

ONE: That’s a good question. I hope that the opening of the Silver Line takes away some of that perception, does [Dulles] more available. But definitely the developments that have occurred down the corridor have really opened up the possibilities for Dulles Airport and its expansion. So I think slowly but surely that kind of mindset is leaving us.

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

ONE: 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 limited in size. They cannot grow. We can grow and we are ready for it.

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