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Dulles Airport could break ground on new concourse soon, MWAA chief says

The planned Tier 2 Concourse East project coming to Dulles International Airport (courtesy MWAA)

United Airlines is in line for a major expansion of its facilities at Dulles International Airport.

Construction on a new concourse for the airport’s largest carrier could break ground within the next month, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority President and CEO Jack Potter told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a Tuesday (Oct. 17) transportation committee meeting.

Dubbed Tier-2 Concourse East, the $580 million project will add 400,000 square feet on top of the existing C and D concourse, replacing Concourse A gates built in the 1990s that require passengers to use outdoor, covered walkways to get to their planes.

Expected to become operational in 2026, the new concourse will have 14 gates, seven of them capable of accommodating larger planes for international flights. It will also directly connect to the airport’s underground Aerotrain system, which is currently only accessible from the C/D concourse by a pedestrian walkway that “people find that very inconvenient,” Potter said.

“I think it’s going to significantly improve the customer experience,” Potter said, noting that the C/D concourse has undersized rooms and lacks sufficient space for concessions. “That’s the two things we’re trying to drive on: we want capacity, but we also want to really make sure that we improve the customer experience.”

Work on the concourse project is kicking into gear as Dulles Airport and Reagan National Airport fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, combining for 4.6 million passengers in August to surpass 2019 levels, according to Potter’s presentation to the transportation committee.

While that demand was initially driven by National Airport in Arlington, a resurgence of international travel has now pushed Dulles ahead of its more constrained counterpart in terms of growth, Potter said.

Dulles is serving more passengers from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Europe than it was before the pandemic, and domestic travel has returned to 97% of 2019 levels, according to MWAA. The only region significantly lagging is Asia, which Potter attributed to “the geopolitical situation” in China.

Metro’s extension of the Silver Line through Dulles Airport has been a “win-win” for MWAA and Fairfax County, Potter said, as the accompanying influx of development and businesses along the Dulles corridor feeds traffic at both of the D.C. area’s major airports.

In addition to giving fliers a new travel option, the station has expanded MWAA’s reach when it comes to recruiting employees, who get incentives for using transit, Potter told the committee. The Dulles station hit 1 million passengers on Oct. 4 — accounting for a third of the over 3 million people who have used the six new Silver Line stations since they opened last Nov. 15.

“We are selling very, very strongly to international destinations and travelers that they can come into Dulles Airport and take transit to downtown [D.C.] and any other destination served by the Metro,” Potter said. “It is a very, very good selling point.”