Northern Virginia Airports: Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA)

Washington-Hoover Airport was built on the Virginia side of the 14th Street Bridge National Airport was built downstream from the 14th Street Bridge
Washington-Hoover Airport was built on the Virginia side of the 14th Street Bridge, while National Airport was built downstream from the 14th Street Bridge
Source: Library of Congress, Aerial View of South End of Highway Bridge, 14th Street Underpass Looking Northeast, 1932,
Aerial View of Potomac and Area to be Filled With Dredging Operation in Lower Right Corner, 1930

Two commercial airports are located in Northern Virginia, Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA). They are the busiest civilian airports in Virginia.

Both were built by the Federal government, and are still Federally-owned. In contrast to the competition in Richmond/Hampton Roads, both Dulles and Reagan National are managed by one organization, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). That essentially eliminates competition between the two airports, and at times allows one to subsidize the other.

There is still competition, from across the state line. Maryland active boosts its Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) in Baltimore. The low fares and large number of daily departures offered by Southwest Airlines in particular can draw passengers across the border from Virginia, from as far south as Richmond.

Dulles and Reagan National have the vast majority of commercial passengers getting on/off planes at Virginia airports, 2000�2012
Dulles and Reagan National have the vast majority of commercial passengers getting on/off planes at Virginia airports, 2000-2012
Source: Virginia Department of Aviation, 2013 Virginia Air Transportation System Plan Update

Prior to the development of the first commercial airport serving the District of Columbia, pilots of surplus World War I Navy "flying boats" would land on the Potomac River next to the Arlington Beach and Amusement Park.

The first municipal airport for the District of Columbia was a private field located near the Virginia terminus of the 14th Street Bridge, called Hoover Field.

Philadelphia Rapid Transit started scheduled passenger service from Hoover Field to Philadelphia in 1926. There was not enough revenue to cover costs, and the company went bankrupt before the year ended. Potomac Flying Service then began operations at Hoover Field.

Hoover Field was located upstream of the 14th Street Bridge, and on the Virginia side of Boundary Channel (Little River)
Hoover Field was located upstream of the 14th Street Bridge, and on the Virginia side of Boundary Channel ("Little River")
Source: Department of Commerce, Airway Bulletin No. 124 (1927)

In 1927, Washington Airport was built next door and just across Military Road. It originally served sight-seeing planes. The owners soon formed Seaboard Airways and started charter service for paying customers.

Washington Airport was located on land that had been a marsh separating Alexander's Island and the Virginia shoreline, but filled in by debris as the District of Columbia used it for a dumping ground.1

Military Road separated the fields used as a landing strip at Washington Airport and Hoover Field
Military Road separated the fields used as a landing strip at Washington Airport and Hoover Field
Source: Arlington Fire Journal, Aircraft Accidents - 1929 and 1970

The two private airports merged in 1930 into Washington-Hoover Airport. After the merger, an Art Deco terminal was constructed to service passengers and pilots. The two airports were sold separately in 1933, but purchased by the same buyer. Together the parcels totaled 146 acres, which was recognized at the time as small for an airport.

Pilots had great flexibility in how they chose to land. A 1951 retrospective commented:2

Landing or taking off to the north or south was not so bad, although engine failure north of the field would let you down on Columbia Island, then a bog overgrown with brush and willows. Bordering the field on the east was the amusement park with a high roller coaster, over which you had to slip for a precarious landing and a very short roll to the farm fence on the other side.

There were no such things as traffic patterns then, and you could approach the field any way you liked, make your turns where you pleased and land anywhere it seemed inviting. You could even spiral down directly over the landing area if the spirit moved you and make your landing out of a turn.

 Washington Airport and Hoover Field, separated by Military Road
Washington Airport and Hoover Field, separated by Military Road
Source: Arlington Public Library, 1931 road improvement map

The Washington Airport property included the Airport Swimming Pool used by local residents as well as traveling pilots, plus one of the ice cream stands opened in the area by Herbert Beck. Each Polar Bear stand was a square shed designed to identify it with frozen custard. They were decorated with cement ice icicles, mirrors, and statues of poplar bears waving at customers.

One employee, Carl Sponseller, moved to Fredericksburg and opened his own custard stand there. Carl's became an iconic part of the Fredericksburg community. Its 1953 structure is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The modern experience of eating ice cream there has a heritage that dates back to the Washington-Hoover Airport.3

Washington-Hoover Airport included a swimming pool in 1933
Washington-Hoover Airport included a swimming pool in 1933
Source: Internet Archive, Aero Digest (August and September, 1933)

The runway at the Washington-Hoover Airport was obstructed by the three tall (450-600' high) towers of Arlington Naval Radio Station, which had been built in 1913 at Fort Myer. Despite complaints from pilots, the Navy declined to move the radio towers to enhance safety at the new private airport.

the US Navy's radio towers at Fort Meyer were a safety hazard to airplanes throughout the life of the Washington-Hoover Airport
the US Navy's radio towers at Fort Meyer were a safety hazard to airplanes throughout the life of the Washington-Hoover Airport
Source: Library of Congress, US Navy radio towers in Arlington County, Virginia (1917)

Electricity lines strung on poles at the southeastern end of the runway along Arlington Pike were also significant safety hazards. The Public Utilities Commission in the District of Columbia ordered the overhead wires removed from property considered within the boundaries of the District of Columbia in 1932. The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the issue, and finally concluded that the lines were within the District.

The utility resisted for three more years the order to move the wires, claiming they overhead power lines were outside the jurisdiction of the Public Utilities Commission. After a plane hit a similar power line in California and three people died, the Potomac Electric and Power Company finally agreed in 1935 to move the wires.

In 1928, the Graf Zepplin visited Washington Airport. In 1929, the Washington Airport purchased the Arlington Beach and Amusement Park. That recreational site adjacent to the Potomac River had opened in 1923, and hydroplane rides were one of its attractions. The roller coaster was demolished, to create three 500' runways and improve safety.

Traffic on Military Road had to be blocked by guards, before planes could take off or land. Attempts to close Military Road were supported by the Federal government, but opposed by Arlington County officials.4

Washington Airport merged with Hoover Field in 1930, and serviced scheduled commercial carriers until National Airport opened in 1941
Washington Airport merged with Hoover Field in 1930, and serviced scheduled commercial carriers until National Airport opened in 1941
Source: Smithsonian Institution, Airports, USA, Virginia, Arlington, Hoover Field (Washington Airport); Airlines, Eastern Air Lines (USA) (1927)


Source: YouTube, History in a Can

Constant complaints by commercial pilots about the safety of Washington-Hoover Airport produced hearings by the US Congress, but no action to fund a public airport. President Roosevelt finally stepped in. He selected the at Gravelly Point site, a mud flat downstream from the highway and railroad bridges crossing the Potomac River.

Washington-Hoover Airport was shown on a 1940 road map, and National Airport had not opened yet
Washington-Hoover Airport was shown on a 1940 road map, and National Airport had not opened yet
Source: Osher Map Library, Pictorial Guide to Happy Mortoring in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia (1940)

One advantage of that location was that the mud flat lay below the high-water line, and the Federal government owned the bed of the Potomac River. The land along the Potomac River had been brickyards 50 years earlier.

the Potomac River shoreline at the site of National Aiport was filled with brickyards at the start of the 20th Century
the Potomac River shoreline at the site of National Aiport was filled with brickyards at the start of the 20th Century
Source: Library of Congress, Map of Alexandria County, Virginia for the Virginia Title Co. (1900)

the National Park Service planned for a new airport when it designed the George Washington Memorial Parkway
the National Park Service planned for a new airport when it designed the George Washington Memorial Parkway
Source: National Archives, Plan for Development of Mount Vernon Memorial Highway

National Airport was built in 1938-1941. The US Navy finally removed the Arlington Naval Radio Station towers before the new airport opened on June 16, 1941. Unlike Washington-Hoover Airport, National Airport was owned by the Federal government. For a Federally-owned airport, the US Navy gave higher priority to safety issues.

The opening of National Airport freed up the space occupied by the small Washington-Hoover Airport. In August, 1941, President Roosevelt ordered that the new headquarters for the War Department be located at the old Washington-Hoover Airport location. The Pentagon opened there in 1943.

the name of National Airport (DCA) and the terminal have changed since 1941, but not the main runway configuration
the name of National Airport (DCA) and the terminal have changed since 1941, but not the main runway configuration
the name of National Airport (DCA) and the terminal have changed since 1941, but not the main runway configuration
Source: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Then Aerial shot of DCA 1940's

The US Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for the construction of National Airport. Dredges moved sediments from the river bottom to create new land for the runways, and relocated a portion of the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway.

As the economy boomed in 1941, the Corps struggled to find reliable workers. According to a history published by the US Army:5

Turnover of labor was a big problem. Much of it comprised "floaters" who worked long enough to get a few dollars and then walk off the job, with a pair of government boots, a shovel or some other implement and migrate to another climate.

Sometimes a man didn't even collect what was due him but simply disappeared. They also disappeared in other ways. A careless step and fall overboard in the darkness of the night left no trace until subsequently the remains of arms, legs and other portions of the anatomy were discharged on the fill, the body having been drawn into the dredge line and ground up in the cutterhead.

National Airport was built on sediments dredged from the Potomac River, and it was unclear if the facility was located in Virginia
National Airport was built on sediments dredged from the Potomac River, and it was unclear if the facility was located in Virginia
Source: US Army Corps of Engineers, A Historical Summary of the Work of the Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C. and Vicinity, 1852-1952 (p.99)

Because the new National Airport was constructed on a mudflat that was formerly part of the Potomac River and its floodplain, it was not clear if the new facility was located in the District of Columbia or Virginia. The mudflat had been below the high-water mark, but construction altered the shoreline and created a new high-water mark.

National Airport and the Pentagon in 1946
National Airport and the Pentagon in 1946
Source: Library of Congress, Central Virginia (1946)

In 1945, Congress defined the boundary as the new high-water mark created by the airport's fill. That placed the airport in Virginia.6

Congress determined in 1945 that National Airport was located in Virginia, above the mean high water mark of the Potomac River
Congress determined in 1945 that National Airport was located in Virginia, above the mean high water mark of the Potomac River
Source: Smithsonian Institution, Airports, USA, Virginia, Virginia, Washington (Ronald Reagan) National Airport

World War II and the advent of jets made clear that National Airport would be unable to handle future traffic. In 1950, Congress passed the Second Washington Airport Act.

The Federal government's Civil Aeronautics Administration considered Annandale in Fairfax County and Chantilly on the Loudoun/Fairfax boundary (site of the existing Blue Ridge Airport), but chose the farming community of Burke as the site and purchased 4,500 acres.

The Federal government acted slower than urban sprawl. By the 1950's, the Fairfax County farmers who had relied upon the railroad depot at Burke Station to ship milk and produce to Alexandria/DC had been replaced by government workers commuting from new post-war suburban communities. The new residents had no desire for the noise and traffic of a new jet airport in their neighborhood, and they were white-collar workers with the skills and willingness to "fight city hall."

The Burke Airport Relocation Committee was effective at lobbying Congress to force reconsideration of the preferred site. Choices considered in the second selection process included Andrews Air Force Base, Pender (near Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax County), and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (known then as Friendship International Airport).

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower accepted his advisor's recommendation to build at the Chantilly site. It too was occupied, but the residents of the community of Willard were blacks in an era of segregation. Calling the airport site Chantilly after the nearest white community, and ignoring the name of the actual site occupied by blacks for 50 years, reflected the prejudices of the time as well as the relative prosperity of Chantilly vs. Willard.

Dulles is located in a Triassic basin, providing a flat valley - though igneous dikes (colored red) increased construction costs of underground tunnels
Dulles is located in a Triassic basin, providing a flat valley - though igneous dikes (colored red) increased construction costs of underground tunnels
Source: Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, Division of Geology and Mineral Resources Online Mapping Tool

Unlike Burke, resistance by Willard residents to block the airport was not effective. The Federal Aviation Administration (successor to the Civil Aeronautics Administration) acquired 9,800 acres of land, removed 300 existing structures, and constructed a new airport. In the end, the airport was not named after any local geographic feature. The name commemorates Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, who died in 1959 from cancer.

the location for the second Federal airport to serve DC was called Chantilly, but the actual location was at Willard
the location for the second Federal airport to serve DC was called "Chantilly," but the actual location was at Willard
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Herndon 7.5x7.5 topographic quad (1951)

Public protests regarding transformation of the site revolved around protection of two pre-Civil War mansion houses. Public pressure forced the preservation of the 1799 plantation house at Sully Plantation, and it is now operated as an historic site by the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Protests were not sufficient to save the Leeton mansion house, which had been built between 1800-1820. It was destroyed, along with Shiloh Baptist Church and the homes of Willard residents, in order to construct the new airport:7

The crossroads of Willard and Sterling Rd have been covered in tarmac and are now home to the airport's 300-ft-tall control tower. Shiloh Baptist Church is but a mere memory on a patch of grass next to a runway. All that is left of Willard today are a number of vacant properties bordering the airport to the west that once contained farms.

the mansion house at Leeton was destroyed, along with homes and businesses of Willard residents and Shiloh Baptist Church, to construct Dulles International Airport
the mansion house at Leeton was destroyed, along with homes and businesses of Willard residents and Shiloh Baptist Church, to construct Dulles International Airport
Source: Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, Leeton, 4619 Centreville Road, Chantilly, Fairfax County, VA (c. 1933)

Dulles then and now: the old Blue Ridge Airport and the community of Willard are now replaced by modern runways and the terminal complex
Dulles then and now: the old Blue Ridge Airport and the community of Willard are now replaced by modern runways and the terminal complex
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online (using historical US Geological Survey 1951 map of Herndon)

Dulles opened on November 17, 1962, as the first airport built specifically to handle jet aircraft. Friendship Airport at Baltimore (now Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport) had handled jets since 1959, and Maryland officials feared the Federal government would steer business to Dulles.

since Dulles opened in 1962, three airports have serviced the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area
since Dulles opened in 1962, three airports have serviced the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area
Source: General Accounting Office, Reagan National Airport: Capacity to Handle Additional Flights and Impact on Other Area Airports (p.6)

Maryland's leaders recognized that the new jetport would compete for business, and Maryland senator J. Glenn Beall called Dulles a "a federally conceived, federally planned, federally financed and federally constructed boondoggle." However, Dulles was designed to pull international flights away from airports at New York City more than from Baltimore. As jet travel replaced propeller-driven planes, Dulles was expected to surpass National Airport as well:8

During those early days of jet travel, New York City was the primary point of entry to the United States for diplomats and tourists. Dulles was going to change that, promising to transform Washington into an international gateway. That the airport was the first in the world built expressly for jet aircraft distinguished it from National Airport, whose runways were too short for jets of that era to land.

since 1962, the angled columns of architect Eero Saarinen's terminal have provided a sense of motion for passengers arriving at Dulles International Airport (IAD)
since 1962, the angled columns of architect Eero Saarinen's terminal have provided a sense of motion for passengers arriving at Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Source: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Grand Opening Program (November 17, 1962)

Once jet aircraft first started flying into National Airport (DCA) in 1966, few passengers wanted to travel the extra distance to Dulles. The Federal government had built the 16-mile long Dulles Access Road dedicated to provide easy ground access, but the Chantilly site was still over 20 miles from the urban core in the District of Columbia. Dulles International Airport (IAD) was underutilized and considered to be a "white elephant." In 1975, 11.7 million people used National Airport while just 2.5 million used Dulles.

Eero Saarinen's terminal under construction at Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Eero Saarinen's terminal under construction at Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Source: Library of Congress, Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, Virginia, 1958-63

Congress sought to stimulate business at Dulles by limiting business at National. Jets flying out of National were limited initially to destinations no further away than 650 miles, though airlines were authorized to continue using seven pre-existing routes with flights to destinations up to 1,000 miles away.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) modified the "perimeter rule" in 1981 to fix the limit for all flights at 1,000 miles. The US Congress extended the distance to 1,250 miles in 1986, in the same legislation that transferred Washington National and Dulles airports to the newly-created Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Legislators from the western states regularly attempt to relax/abolish the Perimeter Rule. The Virginia legislature has supported the 1,250 mile perimeter rule, in part to minimize the noise burden in Arlington of long-distance jets. In 2000, Congress permitted the FAA to allow six round-trip flights to points outside the perimeter.9

flights from Reagan National (airport code DCA) are no longer limited to distances of 1,250 miles or less
flights from Reagan National (airport code DCA) are no longer limited to distances of 1,250 miles or less
Source: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Reagan National North American NonStop Air Service (2014)

Until 1987, the two airports in Northern Virginia were operated by the Federal Aviation Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation. To streamline the process for making long-term capital improvements without interference from short-term political considerations, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) was created in 1986 and the airports were leased for 50 years (until 2067). The lease fee was set at $3,000,000/year in 1987, with adjustments for inflation.10

as Tysons Corner and Northern Virginia developed, Dulles International Airport (IAD) began to service more passengers than Reagan National (DCA) - but Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) grew the most
as Tysons Corner and Northern Virginia developed, Dulles International Airport (IAD) began to service more passengers than Reagan National (DCA) - but Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) grew the most
Source: General Accounting Office, Reagan National Airport: Capacity to Handle Additional Flights and Impact on Other Area Airports (p.7)

The decision to lease, rather than transfer ownership, protected the ownership claim of Federal taxpayers who funded construction of the airports, and the authority of Congress to control the sites. Reflecting its retained authority, in 1998 Congress renamed National as "Ronald Reagan National Airport."

National Airport was built in 1941 by depositing dredge spoils on the edge of the Potomac River, and it took an act of Congress to clarify that the new airport was located in Virginia rather than in the District of Columbia

National Airport was built in 1941 by depositing dredge spoils on the edge of the Potomac River, and it took an act of Congress to clarify that the new airport was located in Virginia rather than in the District of Columbia
National Airport was built in 1941 by depositing dredge spoils on the edge of the Potomac River, and it took an act of Congress to clarify that the new airport was located in Virginia rather than in the District of Columbia
Source: Library of Congress, Aerial view of Washington, D.C., with Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the Potomac River to the left and Arlington County, Aerial Photos

The airports authority, once it became an independent agency, issued long-term capital bonds financed by projected landing fees and concessioner profits. Borrowing money like a business, rather than relying upon Federal appropriations, enabled the authority to fund expansion of capacity and efficiency at both airports and compete more effectively with Baltimore-Washington International in Maryland.

Composition of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority reflects the political disputes over the management of the airports, and concerns of Maryland officials that Baltimore-Washington International should continue to thrive. The original composition of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board was debated extensively in 1986. Ultimately, 13 people were appointed to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, with 5 appointed by the Governor of Virginia, 3 appointed by the Mayor of the District of Columbia, 2 appointed by the Governor of Maryland; and 3 members appointed by the President.

control tower at Reagan National Airport
control tower at Reagan National Airport

The composition of the board was changed in 2012 to give Virginia more authority. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority had assumed responsibility for the Rail-to-Dulles project (Silver Line), and the Dulles Toll Road was transferred to the authority so it could raise tolls to fund the Silver Line extension. Costs ballooned past projections, contracting practices involved questionable ethics, and Virginia's governor was a Republican concerned that appointees made by the previous Democratic governor would sign a "project labor agreement" for Phase 2 of the Silver Line.

Under the previous governor, Tim Kaine, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority had signed a project labor agreement for Phase 1 and committed to union wages and working conditions. The other two local jurisdictions on the authority's board, Maryland and the District of Columbia, were governed by Democrats, and the President was also a Democrat sympathetic to organized labor.

After the airport stated in 2011 that it planned to require a project labor agreement for Phase 2, Gov. Bob McDonnell threatened to block distribution of $150 million in state funding. That caused to Federal government to slow down its funding commitments, so the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority then softened its contract "requirement" to a "preference."11

After Federal law authorized expansion of the board and DC concurred, the governor of Virginia appointed two new members - over opposition of the incumbent board and Fairfax County officials, who objected to what they viewed as state interference. Today the legislation reads:12

The Airports Authority shall be governed by a board of directors composed of the following 17 members:
(A) 7 members appointed by the Governor of Virginia;
(B) 4 members appointed by the Mayor of the District of Columbia;
(C) 3 members appointed by the Governor of Maryland; and
(D) 3 members appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate

Dulles International Airport is 20 miles further west than Reagan National, and airline passengers flying to/from Northern Virginia and DC prefer the airport closer to the urban core
Dulles International Airport is 20 miles further west than Reagan National, and airline passengers flying to/from Northern Virginia and DC prefer the airport closer to the urban core
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Between 2007-2013, passenger boardings declined 10% at Dulles but increased 9% at Reagan National. United retained its dominance at Dulles during the 2007 recession, but American Airlines, US Airways, Southwest Airlines, and JetBlue chose to reduce their scheduled service from Dulles by 40% and retain/increase service from Reagan National - in part to protect their control over the limited number of "slots" allocated for landings and takeoffs at Reagan National, anticipating that traffic would recover after an economic recovery.

That shift has left Dulles as the secondary airport for domestic passengers, though it remains the primary airport in the region for international flights. Completion of Metrorail's Silver Line will make it easier for passengers to get from Dulles to downtown DC and to the inner suburbs such as Arlington, but closer-to-downtown Reagan National has won the contest for passenger service. In 2016, 11.5 million passengers boarded planes at Reagan National compared to 10.6 million enplanements at Dulles.13

the Silver Line of Metrorail goes past Dulles International Airport and is designed to spur transit oriented development in suburban Loudoun County, as well as transport airport passengers
the Silver Line of Metrorail goes past Dulles International Airport and is designed to spur transit oriented development in suburban Loudoun County, as well as transport airport passengers
Source: Loudoun County, Metrorail Service District

Both Dulles and Reagan National are managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, so different jurisdictions do not provide competitive subsidies to attract/retain passenger traffic. Instead, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority responded in 2014 to the shifting patterns in passenger travel by proposing a $1 billion construction program at National and a revenue sharing agreement where National could send as much as $300 million to Dulles over the next decade to offset operating costs there.14

Dulles has the longest runways of a civilian airport in Virginia, and its location on the East Coast next to the national capital has helped make it a primary US hub for international trips as well as for domestic travel. The iconic mobile lounges ("people movers") were designed by the airport's architect, Eero Saarinen, to minimize the length of a walk from terminal entrance to the door of the airplane.


Source: The Expanding Airport - Mobile Lounges at Washington Dulles International Airport (by Charles and Ray Eames, 1958)

After mid-field concourses were expanded in 2000, passengers used jetways to access the concourse and then the mobile lounges shuttled passengers across the tarmac to the main terminal. Dulles A, D, and C gates became accessible by an underground AeroTrain in 2010, but international passengers landing at Concourse D still rely upon the mobile lounges because Cost to extend the AeroTrain there were too high.

Eero Saarinen expected that mobile lounges would be more popular than a long walk through the hallways of a terminal, extended far from baggage claim in order to accommodate enough loading/unloading jets at one time. However, trans running on rails or guideways became the popular vehicle.

A former president of the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority suggested why:15

Passengers arriving off a long-haul flight seem to see a ride on the mobile lounge, once described as a paragon of luxury, as a burden...

Now, travelers prize what little autonomy they have - choosing to stand, say, on the moving walkway. Said more simply, they tend to resent being captured for an additional period of time when all they want is to be let free to be on their way.

at Dulles, passengers transferred from the terminal to airplanes via people movers until the terminal was expanded in 2000
at Dulles, passengers transferred from the terminal to airplanes via people movers until the terminal was expanded in 2000
Source: Library of Congress, Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, Virginia, 1958-63

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority continues to manage Reagan National as a domestic hub, enhancing traffic and spreading out the flights to Dulles as much as possible. The only international destinations served by Reagan National in 2016 were Bermuda and three cities (Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal) in Canada.16

the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority manages Dulles as the international hub, limiting competition with Reagan National
the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority manages Dulles as the international hub, limiting competition with Reagan National
Source: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Maps of Nonstop Routes at Dulles International

Dulles serves as a domestic hub as well as the international hub, but relaxation of the Perimeter Rule has increased the number of domestic flights using Reagan National
Dulles serves as a domestic hub as well as the international hub, but relaxation of the Perimeter Rule has increased the number of domestic flights using Reagan National
Source: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Maps of Nonstop Routes at Dulles International

the US Congress has mandated exceptions to the perimeter rule
the US Congress has mandated exceptions to the perimeter rule
Source: Government Accountability Office (GAO), Reagan National Airport Information on Effects of Federal Statute Limiting Long Distance Flights (November 2020)

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority claimed in 2013 that new transportation projects such as the proposed Bi-County Parkway through Prince William/Loudoun counties would trigger a boom in cargo exports at Dulles. After opponents quickly debunked claims that increasing cargo traffic would create a significant number of jobs in the region, the Virginia Department of Transportation shifted its justification of that highway to emphasize safety and projected reductions in future traffic congestion.17

the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority supports proposed new road projects, anticipating an increase in cargo traffic at Dulles
the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority supports proposed new road projects, anticipating an increase in cargo traffic at Dulles
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Bi-County Parkway and Related Studies - Prince William and Loudoun Counties, June 3, 2013

Travel though Dulles peaked at 27 million passengers in 2005 and it was the busiest airport in the region, but then the US Congress lifted the perimeter rule restricting flights exceeding 1,250 miles from Reagan National. The Congress authorized long-distance flights to Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Denver. In 2012 there were more passengers using Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport (BWI) rather than Dulles, and in 2015 Reagan National surpassed Dulles.

Airlines chose to schedule fewer flights from Dulles because of cost:18

At Dulles, the cost per enplanement had risen to about $25, compared with less than $14 at National and about $10 at BWI.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority succeeded in reducing costs at Dulles, in part by raising revenue from commercial operations such as restaurants and by selling the 424 acres known as the Western Lands. Dulles was perceived as far away, but customers were increased by highlighting the relative time to reach it. Travelers in Bethesda, Maryland could get to Dulles in 28 minutes; Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport was 53 minutes away.

By 2018, traffic at Dulles exceeded Reagan National again. There were 24.1 million passengers passing through Dulles while 23.5 million flew through National. In the region, Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport was still the leader with 27.1 million passengers.19

A major upgrade to the terminal at Reagan National Airport was completed in 2021. A 14-gate concourse and new security screening buildings were added, the first purpose-built space for security since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, expanding the number of checkpoints from 20 to 28.

The changes reduced congestion between the ticket counters and the checkpoints. After the upgrade, only ticketed passengers could see the vista of the Potomac River through the glass walls of National Hall.

Gate 35X, which had been constructed in 1997 by US Airways for passengers to catch a shuttle bus to airplanes destined for regional airports, was closed. Gate 35X became famed as the worst airport gate in America, and its sign was carefully taken down and shipped to the American Airlines museum in Fort Worth. Employees took selfies to commemorate the final flight from Gate 35X - and reflecting the site's reputation, that flight was forced to return to the gate due to mechanical issues.

The four year, $1 billion Project Journey upgrade ended while air travel was still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Air travel plummeted, and the number of passengers going through National dropped from 23.9 million in 2019 to 7.6 million in 2020.20

the terminal at Dulles was expanded in 2000 to its present appearance
the terminal at Dulles was expanded in 2000 to its present appearance
the terminal at Dulles was expanded in 2000 to its present appearance
Source: Library of Congress, Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, Virginia, 1958-63 and Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, Virginia, 1958-63

A $675 million investment to upgrade Dulles was proposed in 2022, after Project Journey was completed at Reagan National. Tier-2 Concourse (East) would replace the gates at the end on Concourse A used for regional flights. Those old gates required passengers to walk outside and climb stairs to enter a plane. The new 14-gate complex would provide jet bridges for passengers to enter planes without going outdoors.21

Air Transportation in Virginia

Developing Dulles Through Improved Road and Rail Access

Potomac River and the Virginia-District of Columbia Boundary

Virginia-District of Columbia Boundary

plans were announced in 2022 to create a new 14-gate concourse at Dulles for regional flights, comparable to the recent upgrade at Reagan National to replace Gate 35X
plans were announced in 2022 to create a new 14-gate concourse at Dulles for regional flights, comparable to the recent upgrade at Reagan National to replace Gate 35X
Source: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Dulles International Airport Proposes New 14-Gate Concourse

Reagan National (DCA) from the air
Reagan National (DCA) from the air
Source: Arlington County, Arlington County, as seen from the air

Links

Orville Wright prepares to demonstrate airplane flight to military officers at Fort Myer (1915)
Orville Wright prepares to demonstrate airplane flight to military officers at Fort Myer (1915)
Source: Library of Congress, Wright aeroplane (close view) ready for a flight, Fort Myer, Va.

Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge died in the first fatal airplane crash, after a plane piloted by Orville Wright lost a propeller at Fort Myer (1908)
Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge died in the first fatal airplane crash, after a plane piloted by Orville Wright lost a propeller at Fort Myer (1908)
Source: Tending to pilot Orville Wright or passenger Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge after the crash of the Wright Military Flyer at Fort Myer, Virginia

References

1. "Airport Lease Bill To Revive Boundary Row: Senate Hearings on Plan of Bingham Are to Open Tomorrow," Washington Post, January 15, 1933, p.A1; "Dump Fumes Guided Pilots Through Fog," Washington Post, August 19, 1951, p.B2
2. "Washington Airport is Sold," Aero Digest, August 1933, p.36, https://ia800303.us.archive.org/9/items/aerodigest2319unse/aerodigest2319unse.pdf; "Washington-Hoover Field United Again," Aero Digest, September 1933, p.26, https://ia800303.us.archive.org/9/items/aerodigest2319unse/aerodigest2319unse.pdf; "Interview with Ralph Mills," Office of Historic Alexandria, November 10, 2009, https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/history/OralHistoryMillsRalph.pdf; James M. Goode, "Flying High: The Origin and Design of Washington National Airport," Washington History, Volume 1, Number 2 (Fall, 1989), p.5, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40072998; "Washington-Hoover Airport," Chet Aero Marine, https://chet-aero.com/the-story/washington-and-its-airports/washington-hoover-airport/; Earl Steinhauer, "Rambling Reminiscence and Right Up to Date," U.S. Air Services, November 1931, pp.19-21, https://books.google.com/books?id=zcg7AAAAMAA; Roger Connor, "Virginia Aviation," Arcadia Publishing, 2014, pp.113-115, https://books.google.com/books?id=o9jOBAAAQBAJ; "Dump Fumes Guided Pilots Through Fog," The Washington Post, August 19, 1951, p.B2 (last checked February 17, 2018)
3. "When polar bears overlooked North Washington Street," Alexandria Times< March 14, 2013, http://alextimes.com/2013/03/when-polar-bears-overlooked-north-washington-street/; "Carl's," National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, June 30, 2005, https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Cities/Fredericksburg/111-5007_Carls_2005_Final_Nomination.pdf (last checked February 17, 2018)
4. "Field In Arlington To Be Air Terminal," Washington Post, June 28, 1926, p.1; "History of Reagan National Airport," Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, http://www.flyreagan.com/dca/history-reagan-national-airport; "Good Riddance to Reagan-National Precursor, Hoover Airport," Washington Post, November 9, 2008, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/08/AR2008110802278.html; John Paul Liebertz, "Columbia Pike: The History of an Early Turnpike," Arlington County Historic Preservation Office, April 1, 2010, p.27, http://www.ahca.info/features/ColumbiaPike.pdf; "Pepco Expects to Move Wires Near Air Field," Washington Post, September 28, 1935, p.22; "Bill to Improve D.C.'s Airport Passes House," Washington Post, August 12, 1937, p.1; "A Day at the Beach," Arlington Public Library, https://library.arlingtonva.us/2008/07/29/a-day-at-the-beach/; Earl Steinhauer, "Rambling Reminiscence and Right Up to Date," U.S. Air Services, November 1931, p.20, https://books.google.com/books?id=zcg7AAAAMAA; "Arlington Beach Being Dismantled," The Washington Post, October 24, 1929, p.24; "Work On Arlington Beach," The Washington Post, May 7, 1923, p.8; "Buried Power Lines At Airport Upheld," The Washington Post, May 4, 1932, p.20 (last checked February 17, 2018)
5. Socket L .Duryee, "A Historical Summary of the Work of the Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C. and Vicinity, 1852-1952," US Army Corps of Engineers, 1952, p,101, http://cdm16021.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16021coll4/id/142/rec/27; Steve Vogel, "The Pentagon" Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, April 7, 2011 https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Pentagon_The (last checked January 23, 2018)
6. "History of Reagan National Airport," Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, http://www.flyreagan.com/dca/history-reagan-national-airport (last checked February 16, 2018)
7. Eugene Scheel, "Dulles Airport Has Its Roots in Rural Black Community of Willard," The History of Loudoun County, Virginia, November, 2002, http://www.loudounhistory.org/history/dulles-airport-history.htm; "Farms of Study," Dulles Online, http://dullesonline.info/farms.php; "Willard Crossroads," Dulles Online, http://dullesonline.info/willard.php (last checked April 6, 2021)
8. "How Dulles Airport Brought Us into the Jet Age," Washingtonian, December 12, 2011, https://www.washingtonian.com/2011/12/12/how-dulles-airport-brought-us-into-the-jet-age/ (last checked April 15, 2018)
9. "How Dulles Airport Brought Us into the Jet Age," Washingtonian, December 12, 2011, https://www.washingtonian.com/2011/12/12/how-dulles-airport-brought-us-into-the-jet-age/; "Dulles Airport Recovers From White-Elephant Image," Washington Post, May 13, 1985, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/business/1985/05/13/dulles-airport-recovers-from-white-elephant-image/d57b1da2-e855-4a88-87b9-586813ce3b12; "Reagan National Airport: Capacity to Handle Additional Flights and Impact on Other Area Airports," General Accounting Office, GAO/RCED-99-234, September 17, 1999, p.4, http://www.flyreagan.com/sites/default/files/reagan_national_airport_sep_1999_gao_report_to_secretary_of_transportation_capacity_to_handle_additional_flights_and_impact_on_other_area_airports_0.pdf; "Frequently Asked Questions, Washington Airports Authority, http://www.metwashairports.com/267.htm; "Senate Joint Resolution No. 220," Virginia General Assembly, March 13, 1998, http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?981+ful+SJ220ER (last checked October 6, 2013)
10. "Lease of Metropolitan Washington Airports," United States Code Sec. 49104, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title49/html/USCODE-2011-title49-subtitleVII-partD-chap491-sec49104.htm (last checked October 6, 2013)
11. "Labor agreement dropped from Dulles rail deal," The Washington Times, June 6, 2012, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/jun/6/mwaa-board-votes-drop-labor-language-phase-2-dulle/ (last checked June 6, 2014)
12. "McDonnell Appointees to MWAA Board Face a Wait," Sun-Gazette, August 13, 2012, http://www.sungazette.net/mclean-greatfalls-vienna-oakton/news/mcdonnell-appointees-to-mwaa-board-face-a-wait/article_cd54063e-e56c-11e1-9df5-0019bb2963f4.html; "MWAA defends inaction on board expansion," Fairfax Times, December 8, 2011, http://www.fairfaxtimes.com/article/20111208/NEWS/712089819&template=fairfaxTimes, "Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority," United States Code Sec. 49106, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title49/html/USCODE-2011-title49-subtitleVII-partD-chap491-sec49106.htm (last checked October 6, 2013)
13. "Airports Authority Board Approves Use and Lease Agreement for Airlines; Addresses Reagan/Dulles Imbalance," Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority news release, November 12, 2014, http://www.mwaa.com/about/airports-authority-board-approves-use-and-lease-agreement-airlines-addresses-reagan-dulles; "Commercial Service Airports (Rank Order) based on Calendar Year 2016 Enplanements," Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), October 5, 2017, https://www.faa.gov/airports/planning_capacity/passenger_allcargo_stats/passenger/ (last checked April 16, 2018)
14. Michael D. Wittman, "Commercial Air Service at Virginia's Airports: Challenges and Opportunities," Virginia News Letter, Volume 90 No. 5 (July 2014), p.7, http://www.coopercenter.org/publications/VANsltr0714
15. Veronique Greenwood, "The Lonely Ballad of the Dulles Airport Mobile Lounge," AtlasObscura, July 26, 2016, https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-lonely-ballad-of-the-mobile-lounge; "AeroTrain," Dulles International Airport, https://www.flydulles.com/iad/aerotrain-washington-dulles-international-airport; "Dulles mobile lounges here to stay, but they might go electric," WTOP, April 14, 2020, https://wtop.com/dc-transit/2020/04/going-electric-but-sticking-around-plans-for-dulles-airport-mobile-lounges/ (last checked April 15, 2020)
16. "Proponents Of Bi-County Parkway Say Road Would Make Dulles Major Cargo Hub," WAMU radio, June 20, 2013, http://wamu.org/news/13/06/20/proponents_of_bi_county_parkway_say_road_would_make_dulles_a_major_cargo_hub; "Improving Access to Dulles Airport," Virginia Department of Transportation, http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/northernvirginia/improving_access_to_dulles.asp; "Bi-County Parkway: Myths and Realities," Prince William Conservation Alliance, http://www.pwconserve.org/landuse/bicountyparkway/mythsexpanded2.html (last checked August 22, 2014)
17. "Nonstop Service at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport," Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, http://www.flyreagan.com/dca/flight-guide-and-maps (last checked December 25, 2016)
18. "After years-long slump, Dulles International Airport bounces back," Washington Post, August 17, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/after-years-long-slump-dulles-international-airport-bounces-back/2019/08/17/cf499140-b3d5-11e9-8949-5f36ff92706e_story.html (last checked April 21, 2022)
19. "After years-long slump, Dulles International Airport bounces back," Washington Post, August 17, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/after-years-long-slump-dulles-international-airport-bounces-back/2019/08/17/cf499140-b3d5-11e9-8949-5f36ff92706e_story.html (last checked April 21, 2022)
20. "Gate 35X ends its 24-year run with a water cannon salute (and a small delay)," Washington Post, April 20, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/gate35x-reagan-national/2021/04/20/99e6e5b0-9f07-11eb-8005-bffc3a39f6d3_story.html; "Reagan National Airport celebrates opening of new TSA checkpoints, nearing end of a $1 billion upgrade," Washington Post, November 9, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2021/11/09/tsa-checkpoints-reagan-national-airport/ (last checked November 10, 2021)
21. "Plans for a new concourse at Dulles International Airport move forward," Washington Post, April 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2022/04/20/new-concourse-dulles-airport/; "Dulles International Airport Proposes New 14-Gate Concourse," Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, April 7, 2022, https://www.mwaa.com/news/dulles-international-airport-proposes-new-14-gate-concourse (last checked April 21, 2022)

after it was clear National Airport could not meet all demands for air travel in the 1950's, the two sites selected for a second Federal airport to serve DC were at Burke and then Willard/Chantilly, replacing Blue Ridge Airport
after it was clear National Airport could not meet all demands for air travel in the 1950's, the two sites selected for a second Federal airport to serve DC were at Burke and then Willard/Chantilly, replacing Blue Ridge Airport
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Washington 1x2 topographic grid (1948)

aeronautical chart for area including Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA)
aeronautical chart for area including Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA)
Source: SkyVector

Military Road cut through Hoover Field and Washington Airport, requiring coordination between traffic and takeoffs/landings
Military Road cut through Hoover Field and Washington Airport, requiring coordination between traffic and takeoffs/landings
Source: National Archives, Plan for Development of Mount Vernon Memorial Highway

Thomas Jefferson, as Secretary of State, sketched the site of the future Reagan National Airport when he mapped the site of the new capital on the Potomac River in 1791
Thomas Jefferson, as Secretary of State, sketched the site of the future Reagan National Airport when he mapped the site of the new capital on the Potomac River in 1791
Source: Library of Congress, Proclamation of Federal District with Map (George Washington, March 31, 1791)


From Feet to Space: Transportation in Virginia
Virginia Places