Air Transport World

Dulles as a hub: forward to the past. (Dulles International Airport)

Dulles as a hub: Forward to the past

Washington Dulles International Airport, once in the vanguard of airport design, is taking a step backward to a more traditional style of operation. That step has revitalized the once moribund facility, triggering a massive traffic growth that holds the promise for much more in the not-too-distant future.

The only real question remaining about the future of Dulles (IAD) is whether its transformation will be molded by a well-thought-out master plan or if it will come piecemeal, with one jury-rigged "interim' measure tacked onto another. Airlines and passengers who have had to endure the hodgepodge facility known as Washington National Airport (DCA) fervently hope the road will be cleared to implement the master plan strategy.

If a poll had been taken of the airline industry a few years ago the major U.S. airport voted least likely to become a hub would have been Washington Dulles. The central concept on which the "advanced' design of Dulles was hinged--the mobile lounges--are not conducive to a hub operation, where passengers hop from one gate to another. But in the past several months not one but three airlines have picked Dulles as the site of hubs. And unlike past increased services at IAD, none have been moved from DCA.

Pan Am provides some domestic connections for an enlarged international operation there; New York Air built its own terminal for a hub that quickly outstripped the frequency and volume of its LaGuardia headquarters operation; and Presidential Airways is using Dulles as a hub from its first day of business. It, too, is building its own terminal.

Midfield terminal

It is the terminals under construction or now in use at IAD that are the key to its future. Only Pan Am is using the mobile lounges for its hub, and even that airline is talking about building a jetway-equipped terminal, in conjunction with TWA if that airline agrees to the proposal. All of this building--the New York Air terminal, Presidential terminal, the proposed Pan Am/TWA terminal and another set of seven jetway gates to be shared by a group of three carriers--is intended to be temporary. The permanent, organized change is a midfield terminal detailed in the airport's new master plan.

Implementation of that plan, however, is tied to the ongoing effort to transfer control and eventual ownership of IAD and DCA from the Federal Aviation Administration to a local airport authority. Legislation authorizing the transfer is in Congress, at this writing awaiting a vote by the Senate, a vote its sponsors are confident will succeed. There has been no House action yet.

But James Wilding, director of FAA's Metropolitan Washington Airports operation, is committed to doing whatever needs to be done to continue the growth at IAD, regardless of the outcome or timing of the transfer. "By the projects we've already done was have sent a bunch of signals that we have worked hard to get growth at Dulles and we are going to support that growth trend. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.