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Transformation at Dulles

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne
Dulles International Airport Manager and Reagan National Airport Manager
Thursday, March 24, 2005; 12:30 PM

Airport manager Keith W. Meurlin will retire March 31 after 28 years at Dulles International Airport. Flight and passenger totals have more than doubled since Meurlin took over as manager at Dulles in 1989, Washington Post Staff Writer Bill Brubaker reported in his first article in a two-part series, "Front-Row View of Transformation at Dulles" (Post, March 20).

On April 1, Christopher U. Browne will take over as manager of Washington Dulles International Airport. A former Navy aviator, Browne has worked at Reagan National Airport for 17 years, the last seven as manager, overseeing a staff of 225 and annual budget of $41 million, the Post's Brubaker reported in the second article of a two-part series, "Takeoff at National, Landing At Dulles" (Post, March 24).

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne were online Thursday, March 24, at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss the transformation at Dulles.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Arlington, Va.: Why is the food selection outside of security at Dulles so incredibly lacking? As the new manager, are you going to address this? A set-up similar to National would be wonderful, so those waiting to meet someone outside of security is left with no options except the incredibly unhealthy Cinnabon and candy from the newsstand.

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Chris here. Keith advises me that we will soon be bringing on new food services including a new restaurant in the Main Terminal outside of security. And we will be expanding existing services on the bag claim level.


Potomac, Md.: Why can't DCA and IAD have a cell phone waiting area for automobiles like many forward thinking airports. The waste of gas and time used by police in chasing cars away from picking up arriving passengers who have arrived but have not reached the exit would be unnecessary if those picking up passengers could just call the waiting car which could be waiting in a cell-phone-free lot nearby. Thank you.

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Chris and Keith here. At Dulles we are actually looking at finding an appropriate location for such a cell phone waiting area. At Reagan National, we are constrained by lack of space on the airport. We would like to remind our customers that in all of our parking facilities the first twenty minutes are free. In recent years as a result of security concerns cars are not permitted to wait at curbside and we appreciate our customers' patience and understanding reagarding this.


Bethesda, Md.: What plans does National Airport have to increase parking for it's customers? A colleague flying out of National next month has learned that National Airport will not have any long term parking spots available for a two week stretch. How is this possible and what plans does National Airport have to remedy this problem?

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: During this period of spring break and other holiday travel,we are asking customers to call ahead for up to the minute parking availability. That number is 703-417-7275. The fact is we have seen a 12% increase in passengers using National over the last year and have added additional spaces where possible. We are also looking at a longer range plan to expand our current levels. In the meantime, we do think we are very fortunate to have Metro come to our front door.


Herndon, Va.: Are there any plans to expand the C & D Terminals, in a similar manner to other mid-field one? The customer experience in C is very cramp.

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith and Chris here. Yes. If you have seen Concourse B you are looking at the future of Dulles. We have plans to replace the current C and D Concourses with new facilities.


Arlington, Va.: I have flown from both IAD and DCA extensively.

While I often find good flight prices out of Dulles, my most frequent complaint about Dulles is the unpredictability associated with TSA security screening.

Due to the design of Dulles (where all arriving passengers are funneled through the main terminal for ticketing), there's really only one or two security lines for the entire airport. I have found that the wait for security is entirely unpredictable -- sometimes it's 15 minutes, but I've also waited over an hour (and at random times of the day). The result is that I feel that I always need to build in immense buffer times at Dulles -- to deal with the unpredictability of parking shuttles, shuttles to the terminals, and security lines. TSA maintains a Web site that reports "average" wait times for Dulles security, though they're laughably far from reality. In addition, the lines for security are often long enough that they extend quite far into the terminal, blocking incoming travelers from walking through the terminal.

In short, Dulles seems to have reached capacity when it comes to security screening.

What is your assessment of the security situation at Dulles, from a customer service perspective? What plans are in the works to improve security lines waits?

Thanks for taking questions.

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith here. Security screening is one of the major concerns of all airport operators. We have worked closely with the TSA at Dulles to support their operations. In fact in the last year we built four additional security lanes for a total of 26 lanes. We have also assigned Airports Authority staff expressly to assist with passenger queing to make it a more orderly process. It is challenging for our passengers especially during the peak times, early in the morning and afternoon, and we appreciate their patience and cooperation.


Vienna, Va.: Mr. Browne, at National, you had the advantage of a Metro Connection. At Dulles, what are the prospects of a Metro Connection within the next 10 years?

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Chris here. The prospects are very good. Metro to Dulles ia a regional priority that we fully support, and the rail will operate on the Airports Authority median on our Airport Access Highway.


Bethesda, Md.: What is the timetable for the opening of the underground rail system at Dulles. I had heard it wouldn't be fully operational until 2012 but I could be wrong. Any update you could provide is helpful.


Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith and Chris here. The plan is to open the underground airport train system which, will carry passengers between the Main Terminal and the Concourses, by 2009.


Gaithersburg, Md.: BWI has done a lot in recent years to expand parking, to create a cell phone lot, improve access, etc. But the one thing I love more than anything is their "red light/green light" parking system in the garages. Any plans for such a system at Dulles?

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith here. We have a system at Dulles in our garages to provide space information. As you enter the garage there is an electronic board which informs drivers of the number of spaces available on each floor. We have looked at the system you reference and have some concerns about cost and maintenance.


Reston, Va.: Any long range plans to improve the airport infrastructure to support the Airbus A-380?

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith and Chris here. Fortunately because of the foresight of the original planners of Dulles, our facilities will be able to accommodate the A380. The only modification we will have to make will be to modify the loading bridges at the gates.


Las Vegas, Nev.: There is one skycap, Jesse, who started when IAD opened in Nov 1962. He still comes to 'work' a couple days each week. Everyone knows who he is. Someone should interview him extensively while they can. He can tell you about playing touch football in the terminal. Also, about the filming of 7 Days in May movie.

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith here. I know Jesse well and share many of those experiences and stories with him. He's a great example of the character of the folks who work at Dulles. In fact his nephew served as the Fire Chief at Reagan National for many years.


Arlington, Va.: When will the underground tunnel/walkway from the main terminal to the other terminals be complete at Dulles? Is there a Web page to see the progress on it?

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith and Chris here. We have opened one passenger walkway from the Main Terminal to Concourse B. As we build new concourses, we will also build new passenger tunnels in addition to our new airport train system.
Please check our Web site: www.mwaa.com and look under Dulles Developments for information about our Dulles construction program called d2.


Washington, D.C.: You mentioned something about lack of wireless service at National. I was at Dulles recently, Terminal D, and was shocked to find no wireless service. This airport is minutes away from the HQ of AOL! How soon will there be wireless service throughout IAD? If they can do it in Detroit, surely they can do it at Dulles!

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Chris here. The Airports Authority is in process of procuring these services for both airports in the near future. We are very aware that this is a key customer service that we are anxious to get on line.


Lake Tahoe, Nev.: Great job over the last 15+ years, Keith! I've seen remarkable changes at Dulles and now see the harbinger of many more -- just in time, as my international travel is about to pick up in April. Question -- will you still be affiliated with Dulles in any way (Board of Directors, consultant, etc.) or will you, like some old soldiers, just fade away?

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith here. Thank you and Chris will continue to make Dulles even better for the traveling public. I intend to remain a part of the community and the aviation industry and look forward to new challenges.


Reston, Va.: Is the old control Tower at IAD going to be removed? I certainly hope not, as it is a landmark and icon for the area.

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith and Chris here. The original tower will remain, as it should. For those who might not know, we are building a new Air Traffic Control Tower for the FAA to meet the current and future demands at Dulles. It is scheduled to open in 2006.


Rockville, Md.: One of the drawbacks of using the economy lots at Dulles is that, when exiting, there's often a backup since cross traffic on the four-lane street that leads to the Dulles Access Road doesn't stop. (Worse, most traffic out of the economy lots turns left to head to the Access Road, meaning you need to wait until the street is clear in both directions.) Has there been any thought of adding stoplights or other access controls to make it easier for cars to exit the economy lot?

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith here. If you've been to the airport recently, you've seen construction along the road near the exit of the economy lot. Part of that work will include traffic control enhancements to assist drivers.


Vienna, Va.: Are there any plans to create an observation deck or viewing area at Dulles, similar to Gravelly Point at DCA?

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Chris here. Actually there is a terrific place to view the entire Dulles airfield and that is in the tower at the Smithsonian's Hazy Center.


Washington, D.C.: I'd like more information on parking at National. Taking Metro is not an option since you can't park for days at a Metro lot while you're travelling. Until more lots can be built, what about suggestions about more parking options near National? Can't your staffs create a Web page with options about nearby lots, or lease space in Crystal City and provide shuttle service? Not being able to park at National could severely harm its attractiveness to business travelers.

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Chris here. We have searched extensively for off airport parking options to no avail. As you may be aware, there is considerable construction going on along Route 1 taking away all former opportunities for surface parking lots.


Arlington, Va.: We have a great airport system in the Washington area. What do you see Dulles and National being like 20 years from now?

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Chris. Thank you.
In twenty years National, because of its physical dimensions, will not expand much beyond its current size. New technology may influence operational levels and type of aircraft. But sizable expansion will occur at Dulles where we will see expanded activity, new concourses, two new runways,and more airport development on the south and west portions of our property.


Washington, D.C.: Will Dulles ever look as magnificent as National Airport does?

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith and Chris here.

We may be biased, but we believe we have two magnificent airports both with terminals that have received architectural acclaim. We are at Dulles currently in a massive construction period which of course does impact the attractiveness of the facility.


Fairfax, Va.: Twenty six screening lanes are only useful if they are open. At most I have seen roughly eight lanes open to handle the entire passenger load. Are you aware of any point in time when all 26 lanes were open, and what is the average number of lanes open at a time?

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith here. During the peak periods, the TSA staffs, on average, 24 checkpoints. The airport does monitor the TSA operations during these periods. And we have added our staff to assist and to at least minimize some confusion on queing. It is true that the level of TSA staffing has a direct correlation to wait times.


Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: Picking up on a couple of earlier questions;

How has Dulles become such a funnel for the flow of passengers? Wasn't the original design one of the most decentralized as far as that goes. Seems like there was an entrance near each of the gates.

Was the hot dog stand at the base of the tower ever open -- besides on opening day?

Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith and Chris. Dulles International is truly a major gateway and connector airport as well. We have added tremendous international air service in recent years as well as more domestic service. Dulles is fulfilling the original vision of a modern, major airport, and we're working to continue in that direction.


Keith W. Meurlin and Christopher U. Browne: Keith and Chris want to thank everyone for taking the time to speak with us about our favorite airports. We thank you and the readers for using Reagan National and Dulles International.


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