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After 60 years, Dulles Airport is about to get a makeover

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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 it hopes will set the stage for its coming.

Plans for a 14-door concourse announced earlier this year are part of a larger modernization effort in Dulles, which has long served as the region’s international hub. Richard Golinowski, who held various positions with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority for more than two decades, led the airport through this process. He was appointed airport manager last September.

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

Q: How are things going these days in Dulles and how close are you to pre-pandemic operations?

A: The airport is in turmoil. It’s pretty phenomenal to see how many people are starting to come back and get on planes to travel. We’re about 85% of where we were in 2019, so we’re a little ahead of our budget numbers right now. And it looks like in 2023 we’ll probably be about 90% where we were in 2019. About 95% of our dealerships are open and making money, so we’re doing well.

Q: What is fueling the rise in theft? Are carriers coming back and restarting service or are new carriers coming?

A: We have a mix of both. We have carriers coming back. The latest was Iberia heading to Madrid. They were with us a few years ago. But our existing carriers are adding service. United have added Amman, Jordan; Ethiopian added Lomé, Togo; and Avianca added Costa Rica. Allegiant is another new carrier. They began domestic service in Jacksonville, Florida, and Austin last year. And hopefully, if all goes well, by November United will start serving Cape Town.

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

A: It’s been about 11 months. I was with authority for about 27 years, so I knew a lot of people here in Dulles. But there are a lot of interesting places here at the airport that I didn’t know existed. And I get the big trick. Someone always shows me something new, so that’s pretty exciting.

Q: Dulles turns 60 this year. What have you all planned?

A: The 60th anniversary will be on November 17, so we are preparing for that. We are going to have several events this week, including employee and customer giveaways. We will be hosting a dinner through our Dulles Committee organization. And you start to see, if you come to the airport, signs and banners announcing the 60th anniversary. We are going to involve not only administration employees, but also everyone who works at the airport on a daily basis. We have around 14,000 people working here at the airport to support operations and everyone is very enthusiastic.

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

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

Q: There’s been some big news from Dulles recently. Can you tell me more about the 14-door lobby and what it will mean for travellers?

A: If you know Concourse C/D – it’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 intended to replace it, so this upcoming piece, Concourse East, will be the first phase of Dulles Airport’s revitalization. This will be a 14 gate addition that will be built just above station C. If you know this station today, when you enter and exit the train you have a long walk to the gate . The new concourse will be built right above this station, so you will only have to go through the escalators and elevators to the concourse.

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Q: How long will it take to complete?

A: We hope this will be done by 2026.

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

A: After building this concourse, we will then expand it across the airfield over time and eventually replace Concourse C/D. Right now we are going through the planning process to identify the best way to do this. If you think about it today, it would be a large hall, parallel to the hall C/D 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 venues or public engagement events, where people can come and see what our preliminary plan is and what our long-term plan is. The first was on April 27 and we are preparing to schedule the next one or two of these public sessions. People can also visit the website and submit questions, concerns or comments about our management plan. It is also important to note that the last time we did a master plan was in 1985. So the current plan is 37 years old and needs updating.

Q: As the person responsible for running Dulles, do you hear from passengers about any features or services they would like to see?

A: One of the things we constantly hear about is easy door access. Part of the overall planning process is therefore trying to figure out how to integrate [Transportation Security Administration] the checkpoint control areas in our facilities a little better. Plus, on return flights, we’ll see how we can help Customs and Border Protection streamline their operations for people entering the country.

Q: What impact will the opening of the second phase of the Silver Line have on Dulles?

A: It’ll be good for the airport. I think ultimately this will bring more employees to the airport than passengers. But it’s good. If we can get employees to the airport more easily – transporting them by public transport rather than driving on the roads every day – I think it will be good for the region.

Q: Why aren’t more passengers using it? Is it because the drive from downtown DC is so long?

A: I don’t think it’s a question of time. I think it’s quite frankly, it’s a baggage story. People don’t want to carry luggage on the subway. They just prefer to drive or take an Uber, take a taxi or be driven to the airport with their luggage.

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Q: In this area there seems to be a bias against Dulles – it’s too hard to get to or people just don’t like it. Why do you think that is?

A: It’s a good question. I hope the opening of the Silver Line will remove some of that perception, make [Dulles] more accessible. But certainly 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 mindset is leaving us.

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

A: The future is bright here. We have a lot of interest and the carriers are coming to the airport. We have a lot of pent up demand in the area 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 a bit landlocked and limited in size. They cannot grow. We can grow and we are ready for it.

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