Behind the scenes at Dulles Airport

April 10, 2013

Washington/Dulles International Airport is seen in this June 21, 2008 photo. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the folks at Washington Dulles International Airport offered me a behind-the-scenes tour of their operations. The airport celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012. As it moves into its 51st year of service, officials are still looking for ways to make the traveler experience smoother.

I had no idea how many people work behind the scenes at Dulles. It’s a complex enterprise, and even though I spent close to four hours touring its various facilities, I know there’s even more I didn’t see. As passengers, we check in, drop our luggage, move through security, and are off on our merry way. But it takes a lot to get travelers like you and me from Point A to Point B. My thanks to vice president and airport manager, Christopher U. Browne, executive staff coordinator, Todd D. Sheller, airport operations duty manager, Janene Smith Shaw, and spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Kimberly Gibbs, who took the time to show me around.

A note about the video — here you’ll see footage from the training center where emergency responders practice rescues. The scene in the video features a features a fire unit extinguishing the fire from a burning plane; there’s also a shot of the baggage basement where your luggage is processed; Dulles’ K-9 unit (in this shot a dog identifies a suspicious piece of luggage) and the maintenance facility where AeroTrains go for check-ups).

I’m sure I’ll incorporate more of what I learned during the tour in future stories about the airport, but I wanted to share some interesting tidbits.

  • Currently, there are 3 1/2 miles of AeroTrain track. Future plans call for that to grow to seven miles, as the airport expands, and new terminals are built. Some people thought that once the AeroTrain arrived, the rather retro people movers would be retired. But airport officials say those will be needed until an AeroTrain line for international passengers is constructed. Until they clear customs, those passengers must remain segregated from other travelers.
  • Your bags travel along three miles of conveyor belts, most of them located in the basement of the airport.
  • There are three firehouses, a shooting range and a K-9 unit based at Dulles. The airport also has a fire training facility outfitted with a shell of an airplane that they can set on fire and practice rescues on.
  • During the summer, about 1.2 million gallons of fuel a day are used.
  • Dulles’s extensive grounds are home to a variety of wildlife including deer, foxes, turkeys and coyotes.
  • There are 2,000 cameras on airport property.
  • More than 15,000 people work at Dulles.
Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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Mark Berman · April 10, 2013