Dulles International, the airport of the future in the 1960s, has become the airport of the future in the 1970s and will be the airport of the future in the 1980s.
The future so eagerly anticipated when Dulles opened in 1962, is now scheduled to arrive in the 1990s. That is when Dulles is finally expected to become the region's dominant airport.
Dulles Airport, located on the border of Loudoun and Fairfax Counties, began with two handicaps it has never overcome - wildly optimistic passenger projections and a great distance from downtown when compared with National Airport.
The result has been a comtinuing reputation as an "under utilized," far away facility.
It also began with one great strength - a soaring wing of a passenger terminal that looks far more capable of flight than the whale-like craft now carrying long distance air travelers.
Carefully sited so that an approaching visitor sees the tower and terminal rising cleanly from the plain of the surrounding countryside, Dulles is generally acknowledged to be one of America's great buildings.
Dulles, it also was predicted, would be the heart of a high technology industrial area along the Fairfax-Loudoun County border that would rapidly blossom into a major employment area and source of local tax revenue.
That also has not happened. The prediction did not take into account such variables as the state of the national economy. Like the number of passengers, industrial development around Dulles eventually may match the early predictions. It is the timing that was off.
"Everybody had the idea of a terrific boom of activity," said David A. Edwards, executive director of the Fairfax County.Economic Development Authority. "People thought it would change the face of western Fairfax. It hasn't done that yet, but it's starting to."
As proof of that, FAA officials say that an expansion period that will last for years and cost from $150 million to $190 million is about to begin. A preliminary revision of the airport master plan is now being circulated for comment, the officials said, and would include the purchase of another 1,000 acres for runway expansion, remote parking lots, and major terminal expansion.
Dulles opened with high praise for the work of the late Eero Saarinen, who considered it his finest architectural design, 26 miles from the White House and at the end of a 13.5 mile limited access road owned by the Federal Aviation Administration. It had cost $110 million and in 1963, its first full year, handled 666.559 passengers, compared to 5.4 million at National.
In 1965 when Dulles handled 994,449 passengers and National 6.9 million, the FAA predicted Dulles would have 10 million passengers and surpass National by 1975.
In fact, in 1976 Dulles had 2.8 million passengers to make it the 40th busest airport in the U.S., and National had 12.3 million to make it rank ninth. The latest projections estimate 8 million passengers at Dulles and 16 million at National in 1985. The 1995 projection is for 18 million at each airport with another 14 million using Baltimore-Washington International.
James Wilding, assistant director of the FAA division that manages both DUlles and National, describes Dullies as a "fairly misunderstood facility."
"Something not widely understood is that Dulles was not built to take the place of Washington National. The Washington area is in an excellent position for future air travel because Dulles is there. Much of the area's untapped capacity is at Dulles. But it is not a matter of closing Washington National and walking away from it," Wilding said.
"Our early estimates were not realized largely because the capacity of Washington National was under estimated," he said. "The DC-9 and the Boeing 727 (which carry most of National's present traffic) hadn't been conceived of."
Equally important was Congress' proximity to National. Attempts by the FAA to shift Chicago flights to Dulles raised howls from the Illinois delegation and a 1973 attempt to move Florida and Minnesota flights met the same result.
The airlines have been equally reluctant to shift money-making flights from close, crowded National to an airport that still ranks second in local preference.
Much of the growth at Dulles, which has been significant even if below expectations, has been the result of FAA limiting the number of flights and takeoffs to 40 per hour at National. The size of aircraft flying into National also is limited to two and three engine jets, and the flight radius to less than 650 miles. The distance limitation, however, contains major "grandfather" exemptions of cities like Atlanta, Miami, Memphis, St. Louis and Chicago, and longer flights can make one stop at those cities and fly into National.
"We've got no right to move the airline's arrival point from one airport to another," said Wilding. "Clearly we sit down with them and talk but it's a competitive business. We might be able to keep them from coming in to National but we cannot take a flight out of here and put it there."
"Force feeding Dulles is not really in our interest," said Wilding. "We are trying to look down the road and make sure we have enough capacity in the future."
The approach road to Dulles, which will connect with I-66 if it is completed, lead from the Beltway past scrub forest and new subdivisions, cattle grazing in pastures brightly marked with signs reading "For Sale - Zoned Industrial," Wolf Trap and the modern buildings of technological industries and associations which have begun to move to the area in increasing numbers.
Near the terminal, a lake, a Marriott motel, two office buildings, a building marked "GMR" belonging to the West German military, and a row of cargo structures lie to the right, designed not to be noticed.
Marriott has an exclusive lease for the motel with a built-in requirement that it expand to 550 rooms from the present 215 as occupancy rates increase.
Larry Orlov, the motel's general manager, said occupancy was now running at about 75 per cent annually, better than the industry average but below Marriott's company average.
Across a service road are the only two office buildings on Dulles' 11,000 acre reservation. Continental Telephone holds a 30-year lease and, while having no need to be at an airport, likes the location, A. W. Dupke, regional director of public affairs for the nation's third largest independent phone company, said "We have good mail service and good transportation and from the standpoint of employees it is ideal. Most live in Northern Virginia, parking is easy and the setting is beautiful. The FAA takes great pride in maintaining the grounds."
Dupke said one regret is the absence of flights to corporate headquarters in Atlanta. "We go over to the terminal now and get a bus to National," he said.
Beyond the offices, lies the German military's building, a center for the vast amount of military equipment and men that move between the two countries. Further on are the air cargo terminals, one of Dulles' fastest growing businesses with cargo space already equal to the "ultimate" prediction of the 1960s.
In front of the terminal, a 3,300-car lot is nearly full. At $2 a day, many travelers find it cheaper to leave their car at the airport than to rely on public transportation.
It is quiet inside the terminal at noon. Few people move about and employees kill time chatting. The Hare Krishna girl approaches and says, "Please take a flower. There's no one else to talk to." Rejected, she too soon sits down.
Gradually, about 100 people gather on the observation deck to watch a Concorde take off.
In the Marriott-operated dining room below the tower, the crowd is slim and restaurant manager Jo McCarthy said, "We're in one of our valleys now, but that's normal for this time of year. It makes it hard to schedule waitresses though. I let most of them go and then a 747 gets diverted from New York and we got swamped. But it's a nice place to work. People smile and speak. I think there's still some Southern hospitality left out here."
At 4 p.m., Dulles begins to come to life. At one end of the terminal a group of German officers and their families gather for a flight. The limited seating fills up. Announcements are made in English, French, Spanish and German.
For two hours, Dulles is crowded, and in the travel seasons overcrowded. Then, the lines in front of the ticket counters can make it impossible to walk from counter to the security gates that also back up. The shop areas are overwhelmed, passengers sit on bags or the floor.
The 747s can arrive at once from Europe, swamping the customs area, and if the baggage from one and the passengers from the other reach the terminal together chaos results. Out of sight, domestic baggage handlers work in a cramped space designed before anyone dreamed of luggage packed in aluminum containers built to fit the belly of wide-bodies DC-10s or L-101s.
"I don't see any relief from the heavy peaking we have," said airport manager Dexter Davis. The west coast flights depart and arrive at the same time that flights Dulles, Davis explained.
With more flights in the off peak times Dulles might even out a financial picture that shows Dulles clearing $2.6 million on annual operations in fiscal '76 but losing $4.8 million when depreciation and interest are added. National Airport cleared $7.5 million for a combined profit of $2.7 million for Metropolitan Washington Airports.
An expansion period that will last for years and cost from $150 million to $190 million at Dulles is about to begin, according to FAA officials. A preliminary revision of the airport master plan is now being circulated for comment. It includes, purchase of another thousand acres to make space for runway expansion, the addition of more lanes on part of the access road, remote parking lots and major expansion of the terminal.
Before the $150-190 million expansion program ever begins, the customs area, tucked in the basement of the east of the terminal, will be expanded the baggage areas will improved and the passenger area will be pushed south 50 feet.
Long range plans, aimed at taking the airport to 1995, are keyed to maintaining the basic concept of Dulles - a single terminal using mobile lounges to take passengers from boarding gate to aircraft without walking great distances.
Davis, touring his airport, echoed the sentiment that Dulles needs more flights. "The airlines say if the demand were here we'd get the flights. We say put the flights here and we'll get the demand. It's a chicken-egg argument."
Loudoun County planner Joseph Trocino said. "The airport sets an implied standard of quality. Everybody out here is proud of Dulles and that's not a common attitude around airports."
"Its impact has been heavy," Trocino said, "It changed the land from agrarian to a high potential for industrial development. Slowly but surely we're getting an industrial base and the growth is likely to be geometric.
"Land is now reaching its final speculative value. It's been bought, held and sold for a profit until it's reaching a point where there is no more profit to be had in sales. When this happens the land is finally sold for use and that is what is happening now," Trocino said.
Fairfax's Edwards, whose business card is a map of the county with the U.S. Capitol on one side and Dulles airport on the other, said "When people talk about putting an office here, Dulles is a key factor and we find more interest now."
The type of industry Edwards see as ideal is the joint Rolls-Royce-British Aircraft Corp. complex next to the Washington Redskins practice facility.
The British group, which looked at New York, Chicago, and West Coast locations, will be the North American headquarters for the British aircraft industries supply and support activities. All parts come into Dulles by air.
Lee Schefer, public relations director for British Aircraft Corp. U.S.A., said, "In New York things get lost. Dulles is efficient with no delays. And with advanced technology equipment, nothing can happened without someone signing a piece of paper in Washington."
"Land costs were good and it's a pleasant place to live. Dulles seemed the best deal we could get," he said.
"An airport is a crossroads of the world's caravan routes," Schefer said. "Inevitably you find development takes place around major airports just as it did around harbors in the days of sail."