Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
When President John F. Kennedy cut the ribbon that opened Washington Dulles International Airport 50 years ago, the Concorde, full-body scanners and the AeroTrain were unheard of. Today, the airport reflects not only the growth of the region, but the events of the world. Airport Manager Christopher Browne joins Kojo to examine the passenger experience at Dulles and explore how travel will change in the future.
- Christopher Browne Vice President and Airport Manager, Washington Dulles International Airport
Dulles Airport: The Year In Review And The Outlook Ahead
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Its curved roof hangs between two rows of slanted columns designed by an architect who began as a sculptor. Its innovative mobile lounges ferried passengers to their gates until a sleek new underground train system took over the job, and its expansion mirrors not only the growth of the region's economy but of the international communities that call this area home.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWashington Dulles International Airport opened 50 years ago in the farmlands of Virginia, the second airport to serve Washington but the first in the country designed for commercial jets. Half a century later, the iconic airport terminal looks just the same. But the airport operates at what would have seemed like hyperspeed, with four runways, a new control tower, extensive security and custom screening and 32 million passengers a year.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAs its 12-year expansion plan winds down and a weak economy softens the demand for flights, Dulles is facing both opportunities and challenges as it looks ahead to the next 50 years. Joining us in studio is Chris Browne. He is Dulles Airport manager, vice president at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Chris Browne, thank you for joining us.
MR. CHRISTOPHER BROWNEThank you, Kojo. It's a privilege to be able to join you and your listeners today.
NNAMDIThe privilege is all ours. If you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. What question would you like to ask the manager of Dulles Airport? 800-433-8850 or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question, make a comment there, or shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow.
NNAMDIYou were a Navy pilot, and then you worked at Reagan National Airport for some 17 years, the last six as airport manager. In 2005, you took over as airport manager at Dulles. Why was that move appealing, and what do you find to be the biggest differences between the two airports?
BROWNEWell, you've noted that they are different airports, but one of the things that makes us similar is that we both have very large capital programs, and the one at National preceded the one we've somewhat completed at Dulles. And I come from the operational background. So much of my focus and experience was making sure the place operates while we build out from underneath it. And as you know at National that was very much our story until we were able to open D.C. in '97.
BROWNEAnd I think having had that level of experience when my predecessor retired from Dulles, my boss, our CEO, he said at the time to go west. And so I took up the challenge, and it's been a wonderful opportunity because since getting at Dulles in the last seven years we've been embarked on a rather robust capital program as you've just noted in your opening remarks.
NNAMDIYou're growing and growing. Today's Washington Post says General Dynamics based in Falls Church and one of the nation's biggest federal contractors has reported a $2 billion loss signaling a slowdown in the government's spending that has helped to fuel an economic boom in the Dulles corridor. How has the airport's expansion reflected the growth of that region, and how does news like this affect you think the outlook for the future?
BROWNEWell, we're very much the product of planning done 50 years ago that has allowed us to be responsive to the growing aviation needs of this region, and more recently with the growth particularly along the Dulles corridor, the airport is very much reflected and some would say even spawned some of that growth. And one of the things, the dynamics that's been occurring in this market, if you will, this region is that there's a much broader economic base of users and activities.
BROWNESo it's not any longer sort of entirely based on federal dollars, federal contracting, federal activity. There's a whole lot more activity that the air service and Dulles in particular is responding to. So although, you know, certainly with General Dynamics and others are going through, we remain optimistic, and I think with good purpose when you look at the dynamics of the region and the long-term prospects for growth.
NNAMDIYeah. It's hard to imagine that 50 years ago the planners could anticipate the tech corridor coming here, but you might imagine that a 50-year-old airport would be built out operating at maximum capacity, but that's not the case for Dulles. What's the potential for growth here, and what do you understand about the thinking, the thought so far ahead?
BROWNEWell, all I can say is that we're very much, as I said, the beneficiaries of that forward looking planning many years ago. But what they did is they set aside 12,000 acres, a huge swath of property, frankly not knowing ultimately what could happen or what would happen. But the property itself can accommodate once built out up to 55 million passengers. Many airports, the story in this country is if you look at them, well, there's Philadelphia, Logan, Seattle, others, they're literally built out to their fence lines and what you might call fully mature facilities.
BROWNEDulles is very different with perhaps Denver as a comparative airport in that we've not built out to the fence. All our construction, all our expansion has been done and is continuing to be done inside the fence, which is huge for the community, but it also means that we've got a long way to go before we do get to the fence line.
BROWNEAnd so the opportunity for growth and to provide that growing air service in this region is unparalleled. So it may not be something that folks realize as they come in and come out of Dulles, but where we move 23 million people this year, the facility we're on track over the years based on expanding needs can go to 55.
NNAMDIWell, we go from in a way the expansion of the public space to the invasion of the private space. Last week, the Transportation Safety Administration said it will begin removing the controversial full-body scanners that use X-rays to see if passengers are carrying illicit items. What will that mean for Dulles?
BROWNEWell, currently, the technologies in place at Dulles are expected to be removed and replaced with what you're referring to the L3 product, and really, I think it's clear the TSA is making the right call that at the end of day it's about the security of our passengers and that the selected technology is clearly the preferred one and one that, I think, users will not necessarily notice, somewhat be transparent perhaps.
BROWNEBut it is certainly less invasive in terms of what it may seem to reveal. But at the end of the day, it's a better technology, and, you know, that's what we're all about is trying to provide an efficient, safe and secure passage for folks coming through the airport.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, our guest is Christopher Browne. He is the Dulles Airport manager and vice president of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. He joins us in studio, happy to take your questions or comments at 800-433-8850, or you can send email to email@example.com. When Dulles Airport opened in 1962, it would have seen absurd to X-ray every passenger who got on a plane. How has security screening affected the physical layout and the long-range planning at Dulles?
BROWNEWell, the physical features go beyond just screening passengers. All your bags are being screened, and so some of the projects we have that are sort of underground and a little bit out of sight are working with the TSA on a joint project to install these screening machines that are actually embedded into the baggage conveyance sort of deep in the caverns of the airport so that the end result is a very efficient process by which bags will get onto aircraft, checked bags fully screened.
BROWNESo there's a lot that's occurred on the security side that is maybe not as apparent to folks, some of it is, whether it's perimeter fence lines and so forth. But, you know, certainly 9/11 was a watershed event for our industry, and I know folks will have various thoughts as to whether we're better off today or not. I from where I sit the enhancements that are in place -- and some of them may seem evasive nonetheless -- are in fact providing better security today than we've ever had.
NNAMDIWell, we don't like inconvenience, and we don't necessarily like waiting for long times in security lines, and I know that's one of the concerns that airport managers have to have. What now is the average time of wait to get through security at Dulles?
BROWNEWell, it depends on the time of day and the season and when you choose to travel, but throughout the inauguration when he had lots of folks coming through in the afternoon of the 22nd, for instance, United alone moved over 4,500 people in just a couple of hours. Our wait times were less than 10 minutes, and that's really a function of the facility working well, but the TSA is well staffed.
BROWNEAnd it's important I think maybe, Kojo, if I may use this opportunity to remind folks that our industry is unlike others that I'm aware of and that we rely very heavily on federal folks whether it's the FAA, the TSA or Customs and Border Patrol not just to regulate our activity but they operate. And if they're not able to operate effectively, then the whole business model suffers. So, you know, it's important that we support the TSA and CBP and others and ensuring that they have the resources they need in order to provide the services that are so essential to making this whole thing called air travel work.
NNAMDIAnd I guess I should mention, in case travelers had not noticed, that you've added electronic signs in the back of the main terminal, above the entrances to both security screening areas to tell people the estimated wait time on both sides, correct?
BROWNEYeah. What we're trying to do there is reduce anxiety but also inform people. I mean if people know what's ahead, you know, I don't necessarily have the wherewithal to shorten the line that they're going to get into. But if I can predictively tell them with accuracy how long that line is, it may make a difference in the way they travel through the airport. And so what we've done some airports, some folks are using Bluetooth technology where they will sort of track people based on the location of their phone and then extrapolate a line wait.
BROWNEWhat we have is somewhat unique, first in this country, where we actually take a video picture, if you will, ongoing live of the overhead of our mezzanines and do a head count, and then we compare that against the number of people exiting the security plaza so that we get a very accurate -- not -- it doesn't tell you how long the line was 10 minutes ago, it tells you how long it is this very moment when you get into it.
BROWNESo we have at Dulles the ability to use one of two security mezzanines that you can use either one, and so if you look at the sign and the west mezzanine is 15 minutes and the east is six minutes, then you can make that choice to go to the shorter line. And we also have it set up so you can access it on your mobile device, so that as you're coming to the airport, you can even in advance know what that line wait is going to be.
NNAMDIOne doesn't like to quibble, but one must. There are a lot of security screening lines, but it seems like they're never all staffed. Why not?
BROWNEWell, I can tell you that during the inauguration when we had a lot of folks leaving the area, the TSA did in fact staff all the lines. But it's a resource issue in terms of trying to staff to the requirement, and, you know, frankly, we don't -- there are periods of the day when we don't have so many people that would require all lanes to be staffed and operating that you could staff half the lanes and still have a reasonable 10 minute wait.
NNAMDIAnd, frankly, I did see some stuff that it's done in anticipation of future airport growth.
BROWNEAbsolutely. The capital program, we're coming off whether it was building out the screening mezzanines, the customs and border protection facilities, it was built towards the future. So we've got the capacity. We can...
NNAMDISame for customs?
BROWNEYes, sir. That we can actually build into. We're trying to build facilities that will meet not just today's demands and needs but tomorrow's as well.
NNAMDIWhen Dulles was built, the concept was to take passengers from the terminal to their gates on mobile lounges. Now that the AeroTrain is up and is running, how have travelers responded to it, and how is it working from your standpoint?
BROWNEI think it's working very well. Right now, the availability of the Aero Train is 99.85 percent, which is above the performa. So we're actually rewarding the folks that we've hired to operate that. So it's a reliable, effective means of conveying people quickly out to the gate areas. I think some folks get surprised when they still see, though, that we do have the mobile lounges in service to some extent.
BROWNEAnd for instance, if you arrive on an international flight into Dulles, you cannot use that train to access customs. You have to remain segregated until you've been cleared by customs. So if you arrive into Dulles on an international flight, you're going to get on to a mobile lounge. So we sort of have multiple means of conveyance on the airport, and I would say that the AeroTrain is working very well for us.
NNAMDIBack to security for a second or maybe more. Here's Laurie in Lewes, Del. Laurie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAURIEYes. I'm calling about the -- a scanning device by Implant Sciences Corporation. I believe it's a non-invasive, non-radioactive scanner that scans any explosive device, powder, liquid and, you know, it's quantum sniffing or something like that. And it's being used internationally already. It was used at the Olympics and I think it was approved by the TSA. And I was wondering if any -- if you've heard that technology and having a use for it.
NNAMDIQuantum sniffing? Go ahead, please.
BROWNEI'm not personally familiar with that technology, although I -- there's a lot that the TSA is doing, sort of the cutting edge of various security technologies that are there and test or deployment. And they would probably be the best ones able to answer that.
NNAMDILaurie, have you been in any airport where that technology was already in use?
LAURIEI haven't. I've just been reading about the company for a while because their technology is internationally -- it was used at one of the International Finance Conferences where there were diplomats all over the world coming and it's a very new company.
LAURIEAnd they were -- and they say their products was just approved by the TSA like, you know, a couple of weeks ago.
NNAMDIWell, the general impression you get is that it is less invasive?
LAURIEYeah. It's just a sniffing device. And I don't even know if it would be visible to people walking by it.
LAURIEAnd it smells any sort of powder or liquid, any kind of explosive device implanted, not implanted. I think it sniffs drugs.
LAURIESo a whole bunch of stuff. So...
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Christopher Browne. He is Dulles Airport manager and vice president of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your call. If the lines are busy, just go to our website, kojoshow.org, or shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about Dulles Airport at age 50 with Christopher Browne, Dulles Airport manager and vice president of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. We got a tweet from Rhonda, who says, "I love that Emirates Airline is now flying out of Dulles. Will there be any other great airlines coming to Dulles within the coming year?" Before you answer that, allow me to add that Dulles saw a decline in domestic flights in 2012 but an increase in international flights. Why are the two categories apparently going in opposite directions, and what's the net result?
BROWNEWell, it's -- the markets are shifting and when slots were added at Reagan National, some of the domestic activity, particularly with JetBlue that we had at Dulles, relocated to Washington National. So in a domestic market and some areas, you might consider saturated or fully mature. What Dulles offers is international opportunity that none of the other regional airports have or can offer. And that really is a huge strength.
BROWNEI mean, over 25 percent of our traffic flies to foreign destinations, which makes it one of the highest percentages of its type compared to other airports, perhaps exceeded only by Miami and JFK. So what it means for the region is that the real strength that Dulles is in its international component and the ability to reach every corner of the globe, to make that work, you need to domestic feed.
BROWNEAnd that's part of what United and the Star Alliance does for us. So it's a balance. So we've seen increase -- continuing increase in our international. We've seen some drop-off in the domestic. While that's a concern to us and an area of focus, I anticipate that over time, not only will that return, but it will expand.
NNAMDIAnd Rhonda's tweet, "Loving that Emirates is now flying out of Dulles. Will there be any other great airlines coming to Dulles within the next year?" What's the newest -- what are the newest international airlines that are serving Dulles or...
BROWNEWell, she mentioned Emirates, and actually today, we are hosting -- we have an event with Etihad. They've got an aircraft here at Dulles for sort of a kick-off event. They're going to stop non-stop service to Abu Dhabi in March and that supplements service provided by Emirates. We got the most robust service into the Middle East of any airport in North America serving Doha, Kuwait, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, just a variety of locations, a tremendous air service component. And so, yes, Etihad is the next one sort of in the queue, and there'll hopefully be others be on that.
NNAMDIAnd I had learned a new acronym today, VFR. Apparently, that's one of the things that driving the growth in international flights to and from Dulles. What's VFR?
BROWNEWell, I'm not...
NNAMDIVisiting friends and relatives?
BROWNEAh, OK. To a pilot, it's visual flight rules. But the VFR that you refer to, of course, is the folks that come in to this region perhaps to do business but also for friends and relatives. We have a very diverse region, as you well know, and the ability to serve the needs of the folks that live here as well as visit here is a key part of what Dulles offers. And so you can literally one-stop to any continent in any location and -- on the planet. And that's a tremendous capability when folks want to get together as a part of a family reunion or tourist or whatever else brings them into the region.
NNAMDIA new slogan: Dulles, driving the cultural diversity in the Washington area. Here -- let's go to the phones -- is Thomas in Great Falls, Va. Thomas, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
THOMASGood afternoon, Kojo. My question is for Mr. Browne. Why aren't there any short-term sleeping solutions or accommodations at Dulles? We might have to refer to this as IFR for ignoring friends and relatives.
NNAMDIShort-term sleeping accommodations options.
BROWNEWell, we're actually looking very aggressively at that. If you have the misfortune of having to overnight at the airport because of a cancelled flight, the airport will provide blankets and pillows and try to make it a little bit more reasonable for you over night. But what I think the service you described, we're seeing it on other locations, other airport, which is the ability for travelers with perhaps a three, four or five hour layover to actually have a sort of a quiet space to retreat to.
BROWNEAnd historically, the airline clubs have sort of, we felt, you know, been fit that bill, but we do recognize that there's a component of customers and travelers that may not belong to clubs but have that option, that desire that you described as part of their -- what they'd like to do. So we are actively in conversations with some of our concessionaires. We've looked at some spaces that may, in fact, be suitable for that. So stay tuned. It's something that is a good idea, and we'd like to implement.
NNAMDIThomas, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Dan in Washington, D.C. Dan, your turn.
DANGood morning. Thanks for having me. I want to ask you about efforts to recognize and save the historic landscape that was associated with the Saarinen building. Saarinen and Daniel Kiley, the landscape architect, worked in conjunction with the design of the Dulles building and the grounds. And I find that many of the expansion efforts, particularly the new garages, have blocked historic site lines of a plan to show off the view.
DANAnd the forest plantations of trees to replicate the Virginia landscape had been really kind of lost and in many cases dying off. And I'm wondering how the historic landscapes been factored into views and plans for airport future plans.
BROWNEGreat question. I think, as you know, the Saarinen building is a wonderful edifice, and we're very much committed to protecting the site lines. In fact, that's why the garages you referred to were located where they are and not frankly right in front of the building. So, you know, one of the challenges we have with the facility that's 50 years old is to not only protect its iconic and historic value, but we've got to make it accommodating to the changing and emerging customer demands of the age.
BROWNESo we have to build the structures, but if we can build them in a way that protects site lines, that's something we will work with the State Historic Preservation Office on. With regard to landscape, there is a landscape plan. I know it. The copy of it is actually in my office that speaks to the planting around the core. And as we embark on projects, that gets embraced into it.
BROWNESo actually, some of the planting that is in the parking bowl, the hourly parking bowl, is very much consistent with the original architectural plan. You know, it's kind of a work in progress when the Metro comes into the airport and the station is built next to garage one. You know, those are the kind of things we'll be looking at as we expand and add to the airport. Landscaping is very much part of the picture.
NNAMDIDan, thank you very much for your call. You too can call to talk with Chris Browne, the Dulles Airport manager at 800-433-8850. What new airline would you like to see come to Dulles? And since we just mentioned Metro, will you take Metro to Dulles when the Silver Line station at the airport opens in five years? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIYou can send email to email@example.com. If you have already called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. Can you talk about recent construction on the road leading into and out of the airport and on the Dulles access road? What was the goal, and is the project completed now?
BROWNEThe -- I think what you're referring to is a construction of the Silver Line coming out the Dulles Corridor and on the easement. As you know, that -- the corridor and the land on which the Silver Line is being built is authority property, and it was set aside when the airport was established. Folks, again, you know, really visionary folks, contemplating the likelihood or certainly the possibility that we would need this kind of unimpeded access into the city core.
BROWNESo it's very important to us to maintain that access highway and more recently, to build out the Silver Line. I mean, rail to Dulles is all about serving, you know, the passengers and employees' needs for that area and providing that option of conveyance. An airport works only as well as the transportation into and out of it. And so, it's not enough for us to sort of build runways and concourses, terminals. We've got to develop the corridor.
BROWNESo what you've referred to is going to continue as phase two takes on form this -- later this year. And stations -- three more stations will be built along the corridor leading into Dulles and then the Dulles station at Dulles. To some extent, the land side of Dulles is going to be pretty busy here as we get into that project. So the work along the corridor will continue, but I think we can see that the end result is well worth it.
NNAMDIAnd I don't know if that answers Mel's question. Mel is calling from Dulles, Va. But, Mel, you can speak for yourself. You're on the air, Mel. Go ahead, please.
MELThank you, Kojo. This is a question for Mr. Browne. I live 15 minutes from the airport. And when -- if I don't want to take a car and leave it at the airport for a week or 10 days, there is no transportation that's public that will get me there. I can take a cab, I can take the shuttle but there's an extremely limited options. How come, being in Loudon County and -- where the airport is and Fairfax County, there's nothing, no buses that transfer? You can't even get from the airport to Reston Town Center. How come the airport hasn't done any work in this area?
BROWNEWe actually have a Washington Flyer coach that serves the West Falls Church station today to connect Dulles users to Metro. And then when the Wiehle station opens as part of phase one, that service will continue. And we're looking to even increase it. I mean, later this year when phase one opens, Dulles will literally be within 10 minutes of a Metro station, which is really, really exciting. I mean, we don't necessarily have to wait till 2018 to begin to see the real attributes of Metro coming to Dulles.
BROWNEYou know, in terms of the bus service that serves stations and serves the airport beyond Washington Flyer, you know, that is as much the responsibility we see at the communities. And we do work with Fairfax and Loudon in trying to accommodate that kind of activity. For our part, you know, the biggest commitment we can think of making is what we're doing with regard to rail, is connecting Dulles by rail to the Metro system.
BROWNEAnd while there may not be a station in proximity to where you're coming from, I do know that the counties are very active in expanding the -- whether it's Fairfax Connector or other bus services to those stations to begin to really improve that network 'cause -- I mean, you raise an important point. If you're not able to easily get to the airport, then the airport itself is of less value.
NNAMDIMel, have you raised that issue at all with county officials?
MELI have -- I pursued this. And you get the excuse that that's Loudon County and two miles down the road is Fairfax County, and we don't talk to each other. And how come the airport hasn't worked in their own behalf to try to coordinate with the county to get them to get a bus? I mean, I can get on a bus and go from the airport to the Smithsonian, but I can't get one to go two miles down the road in Reston Town Center.
NNAMDICan you coordinate with the counties, Chris Browne?
BROWNEWell, we have. I mean, we're always in active discussions with them in terms of how to accommodate folks that are coming to and from the airport. But, you know, there is going to be a limit to what we're able to do with respect to initiating bus service that is really within the jurisdictions of others. As I said, you know, on the property that we're accountable for, we're building an extension of the Metro.
BROWNEAnd we do provide bus service to the Metro stations and -- as well. The taxi service that we operate, the Washington Flyer that we operate has a road bus service that'll provide access. But again, I recognize that those are not necessarily options that, Mel, you'd like or that work for you, but we do continue to actively engage with our county partners, in particular, on what we can do to make the airport more accessible.
NNAMDIMel, thank you very much for your call. The location of the Airport Metro station was controversial. Remind us where will the station be and how will passengers get to the terminal after they exit the Metro turnstiles.
BROWNEThe controversy that you speak of, I think, relates to whether the station was going to be underground or above ground. And the original vision long before dollars were sort of put to this was to have it underground. And when we got into a level of engineering that began to more accurately assess the true cost of that, the delta, if you will, between an above-grade option and the underground option, really became very, very costly, anywhere, you know, from three to $600 million. And so it was not a supportable project.
BROWNEOur board elected to go with the above-grade alignment. And, you know, there are certainly a lot of activity and discussion over that, but that was the decision that was made and that station will be aligned very proximate to the first garage you come to as you enter the property and look across the center of -- you know, at the terminal building.
BROWNEAnd what you'll do as a Metro patron is you'll get through the turnstiles, go down the escalators or elevators, and you'll actually intercept an existing walkway that serves our parking garage, an underground walkway, and join the folks that are using garage one as you -- as they transit by moving walkway into the terminal building.
BROWNESo there's concern about the distance, but when you look at the fact that we've got the moving walkways and so forth, I think it's -- it was a very good, sort of, compromise recognizing the costs of the project and what we're trying to provide.
NNAMDISpeaking of moving walkways, here's Marty in Alexandria, Va., who, I think, has a question along that line. Marty, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARTYThanks. Hi. I'm a chauffer for many years. People used to complain about the people movers. And then when the new train system went in, I expected people will be raving about it. But some of the complaints I got was that they had to walk seemingly long distances from the train to get to where they're -- they needed to be. And I -- just incidentally, I've also often wondered because of the great length of the main -- what would you call it, the Main ticket-giving area, whether you've thought about putting people -- moving walkways, more of them in the airport.
BROWNEYou know, one of the challenges that an airport like Dulles has is it's big. And there's just no way around it. I mean, we're serving wide-body aircraft, a 380 and others, and it's just a big place. And so trying to shorten the distances is always a challenge. One of the things when we designed and built the AeroTrain, we did not follow what other airports like Atlanta and Denver did, which is to create what we refer to as a spine, where there's only one station per concourse.
BROWNEWe ended up doing what ultimately will be a loop, and what that provides are two stations per concourse, both on the east and the west wide, and what that does is minimize or certainly reduce the amount of walking that you would otherwise experience. And so sometimes it's a trade-off. One of the things when you start putting moving walkways into a concourse, for instance, you begin to reduce the availability of that concourse for other purposes, whether it's a gate hold area or a concession opportunity or an airline club.
BROWNEAnd so when we go into design, terminal design, a lot of it is we look at, you know, the actual walking distances that people would be expected to take. And Dulles, believe it or not, is favorable in many, many areas. We do have some challenges, acknowledged, that the C station and the walk-back to the C concourse provides, and I know that that's an area that has sometimes been the source of some other concerns.
NNAMDIMarty, thank you very much for your call. We'll stay along that line and talk with Margaret in Arlington, Va. Margaret, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARGARETThank you for taking my question. Mr. Browne, you talked about the C station, and I, first of all, want to compliment you on the many improvements that have taken place at Dulles. It's very much a changed airport over the last 15 years. But that C concourse just appears to me to be a bit different from the rest of the airports today. Can you speak just a little bit about any improvements that you've got planned?
BROWNEThe C/D concourse that is used exclusively by United was built in the '80s and anticipated to be a temporary facility at the time. And when we set about building the AeroTrain, it was envisioned that coincident to the opening of the AeroTrain, we would also open a replacement concourse for C/D. And so we built the station where we would have expected the C/D to be, the new what you might also call tier two concourse to be located.
BROWNEUnfortunately, 9/11 intervened. United went through a lengthy bankruptcy, and the financing for replacing that concourse just didn't come together. And so we continued on and built out the station in its permanent location, and one day a replacement concourse will be there. But in the meanwhile, we built essentially a temporary walk-back tunnel from C into the C concourse. So for the shorter term, the question is how do we keep C and D going and meeting the needs of United?
BROWNEUnited is a key partner. They -- their main nine flights are over 40 percent of our activity. They bring in a lot of domestic feed for our international carriers. But we've got to come up with a financing plan that will allow us to build what ultimately will be a $2 billion project to replace C/D. So in the meanwhile, you know, we kind of tried to keep it going in a way that meets customer needs as best as we can. But it does mean that when you get off at the C station, you're back in a tunnel on a walk-back going into C, and we recognize that that's a challenge.
NNAMDIMargaret, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation about Dulles Airport at 50. But you can still join the conversation. Call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. What one thing would you like to change at Dulles Airport? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Christopher Browne, Dulles Airport manager and vice president of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. We're talking about Dulles, which arrives at its 50th anniversary -- it's 50 years old -- and taking your questions or comments at 800-433-8850. Chris Browne, what are the projections for how many people will ride the Metro to Dulles, and how do you expect it to affect the airport's operations?
BROWNEYou noted earlier that I was previously at Reagan National, and one of the things that Reagan National does very well is 18 percent or so of the folks that use National come via Metro, and I think that's a great success story. It's one of the highest percentages certainly in this country. And while we don't necessarily see that level of initial activity at Dulles, it'll probably be closer to, I suspect, somewhere around 6 percent.
BROWNEI think if you put on a visionary hat and fast-forward 10, 20 years, there's no doubt in my mind that we will see a day when 15 and 20 percent of the folks coming to Dulles will do so on the Metro, but initially, probably in the range of somewhere around 6 percent.
BROWNEAnd it's important, I think, as well to note that it's not just going to be passengers. It's going to be employees, and we've got over 18,000 employees that call Dulles their workplace, and they've got to get to work. And so our ability to attract employees from other parts of the region into the Dulles market is something that I think the Metro will really help with.
NNAMDIGot a lot of people who want to respond to the earlier caller who talked about having problems getting from his home, I think, in Loudoun to Dulles Airport. We got a tweet from Max, who says, "Fairfax Connector Route 981 provides a connection to Dulles from Reston Town Center and from Tysons." And we have Regina in Washington, D.C., on the phone. Regina, your turn.
REGINAYes. You can park at Herndon-Monroe Park and Ride and get a bus. They run out of there every 35 minutes.
NNAMDISo that would be your solution to the earlier caller, Regina?
REGINAIt's closer to Loudoun County than the Reston Town Center.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. Hopefully, that caller is still listening. But here now is Sylvia in Haymarket, Va., who might have a little problem with that. Sylvia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SYLVIAGood morning. I just want to comment on the gentleman who lived close to Dulles. I also live close to Dulles, but I'm in the hinterland that no public transportation services. And it's unlawful to park in a Metro parking lot overnight, much less for the five or 10 days that I need to be away. I have parked at Dulles in the long-term lot often but have been hit there twice, minor damage, not a big problem.
SYLVIABut I'm kind of SOL when wanting to get to Dulles and wanting to leave my car at home. I would appreciate somebody talking to Metro for maybe some extended period of time. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIWould that be Chris Browne you're expecting to talk to Metro for extended periods of time. Just how much influence do you have with that?
BROWNENot a whole lot. But I do think that, you know, when the Metro does open, even phase one and phase two to follow, that we're going to see lots of things sort of evolve and come out of that. And so some of the solutions that we seek right now, we may not know exactly what they are, but I'm fully expecting that a lot of that will follow. I mean, if you look at areas of the Metro system today in Boston and various other locations, it has a very synergy to it that really creates a lot of activity. And so I anticipate that some of these issues will improve over time.
NNAMDISylvia, thank you very much for your call. When we talked about the C concourse earlier, you talked about putting together the kind of financing that could do a $2 billion job. And you've said that one of the things you're working on is controlling costs of the airport so they don't get passed down to travelers. How do you do -- how were you doing that?
BROWNEWell, if I may just take a quick moment to sort of try to capture the financing of airports 'cause I don't think it's widely understood. Airports and certainly ourselves are self-sustaining. We don't receive tax appropriations or revenues. In the revenues that run Dulles and as well as Reagan National are generated at the airport. We collect landing fees. We collect tenant rents and as well concession fees.
BROWNEAnd so we have to be very mindful that if we increase our landing fees and our rental fees too high, then we will disincent (sic) air service to come to Dulles. You know, airlines have the (word?) mobile product. I mean, if it doesn't work in this market, they'll move it elsewhere. And so we've got to control our cost in a way that remains -- that keeps us competitive and attracting to other carriers.
BROWNEAnd right now at Dulles, it's tough because we're coming off a large, very expensive capital program, as you would expect, and we're having to retire the debts. So that will, you know, over time, we'll solve that. But the real solution we think is activity levels into the extent that we can entice and bring other carriers, like Etihad and others, to come into this market, expand their service, then the relative costs will keep us competitive. So it's a challenge. And, you know, we talked about parking. And parking is our largest concession -- source of concession revenue.
NNAMDIOn to Lisa in Burke, Va. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LISAYes. Thanks for taking my call. I have a question about the C/D that you're talking about. I take a lot of flights with United early in the morning, like 8 a.m., to the West Coast, and C/D is absolutely swamped with customers. You can easily wait 30 minutes for a coffee at Starbucks. And I wondered, what is the plan?
LISAI understand the funding, and the financing and improvements you hope to make. But in the interim on the short term, since it's 40 percent of the revenues you mentioned, it's really tough for United customers even to get a cup of coffee in the morning.
NNAMDII need my breakfast, darn it.
BROWNEYeah. I mean, that's -- it's a very valid complaint. I mean, and that's one reason we really would like very much, along with United, to replace the existing C/D with a more modern concourse that can, in fact, accommodate additional concessions. You know from traveling through that concourse that if you add a concession, then it's probably going to be at the expense of a gate area.
BROWNEAnd the gate hold rooms already in C/D are frankly undersized for a lot of the activity that they provide. So we're going to continue to be challenged by a kind of issue you raised. But I will say that we've got a new concession contractor on board, Marketplace. And so we will, in the coming months and years, be looking at these concession opportunities that we have and how we can upgauge them and improve them.
BROWNEBut we are very much space limited in that concourse. And to the extent that we can figure out the financing and make it work in a way that United continues do want to serve Dulles, then we're going to set about and replace that concourse and give you the kind of concession, offering some space that you would expect.
NNAMDILisa, thank you for your call. On to Cressida (sp?) in Arlington, Va. And, Cressida, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CRESSIDAHello. I have a particular concern. My husband is disabled, and we travel overseas a number of times. But in order for us to go in with a wheelchair throughout the airport to the gate and return, it takes us six elevators to go from -- basically when we get off out of our taxi. From security to the gate, it takes us six elevators. And then the same thing happens when we return. We have to go through six elevators.
CRESSIDAI was wondering if you were thinking of anything to accommodate people with that accessibility because for us, we end up being very lonely at the baggage claim when we're the only people there, and everyone else has gotten their bag. And it's taken us about 25 minutes just to get from one place to the other.
NNAMDICressida, thank you for your call. Chris Browne.
BROWNEYeah. I mean, that's a challenge. I know my dad, for a number of years, was wheelchair bound, and so I've sort of, through him, lived that experience. And it's a real challenge because what you're referring to, of course, are vertical movements that typically able-bodied folks will do on elevator or on escalators. And, you know, there's really no easy solution to that. I think more immediately, my job is to make sure that those elevators that you use are, in fact, accessible and reliable.
BROWNEAnd in that regard, I think, we do a pretty good job. But, you know, that's -- that is a continuing challenge for us in terms of a large piece of property, and we got vertical movement. You have to go down below grade to go through security. You've got to come back above grade to access the concourse. So I'm empathetic with the trek that you have to make, but it's important at the very least that we make sure that the conveyance, whether it's elevator or an escalator, in fact, is working.
NNAMDIAnd, Cressida, thank you very much for your call. We move on now to Brent in McLean, Va. Brent, your turn.
BRENTYes. Hi. My question is regarding cellphone and laptop charging stations in the terminals and not just Dulles but airports in general. They're -- they always seem to be very lacking, and you have to hunt around in the terminals somewhere to charge up. Can you address that, please?
BROWNEYeah. I mean, this is one of the challenges we have when you got legacy facilities and technology changes and trying to stay current. And we remained challenged like every airport or large facility that is trying to provide these facilities. You know, we have the remote chargers that we put in place in a number of the hold rooms. But reconfiguring hold rooms with the kind of electrical outlets in the numbers that people would want is a very expensive solution.
BROWNEWhat we try to do is see if there are opportunities to share those costs with the concessionaire and have them help us install that infrastructure. But we understand the requirements. You know, when I travel, I'm the same way. You know, things ran out of power, and you're looking for plugs. And so we actually have more portable charges at Dulles than JFK has. I know that may not seem believable, but if you count them up, they are there. But there are often a lot of people vying for them. It is a challenge, and we recognize that.
NNAMDIBrent, thank you very much for your call. Here now is James in Virginia Beach, Va. James, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAMESYes. Kojo, can we -- is this -- I'll just have a quick question for Mr. Browne. I'm hearing there is rumors that, well, the understanding is that the Dulles Airport and the BWI Airport and the D.C. Airport have a special arrangement for international flights to be out of Dulles alone and not from BWI. And when I mean international flights, I mean long-range flights to Europe and other places. And that's my…
NNAMDIIs there such an arrangement, Chris Browne?
BROWNECertainly nothing I'm aware of. I think both airports offer, you know, a 24/7 facility for international travel. I think, you know, certainly the international travel at Dulles is by far the most robust in this region and, as I mentioned, some of the -- in the world. I mean, we've got today -- you can take one of seven flights into London out of Dulles. So I think Baltimore has one. It's, you know, what the three airports provide this region is a great balance of air service opportunities.
BROWNEFor most of your listeners, not James in Virginia Beach, but for most of your listeners, they probably lived within an hour of one of our three or all of our three airports. And for this region, that's tremendous to be able to connect whether it's domestically or to far-off areas you can do so, unlike other parts of the country. But with respect to Dulles, I think you'll see that we have the most robust international service of all airports.
NNAMDIAnd that's all the time we have. We wanted to speak more about cargo because cargo cannot speak for itself, but we'll have to do that -- I don't know -- on another occasion. Christopher Browne is Dulles Airport manager and vice president of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Thank you for joining us.
BROWNEThank you very much, Kojo. It's a pleasure.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
We explore the lessons from cities that have boosted their minimum wage as D.C. activists try to get a minimum wage hike on the ballot next year.
Kojo sits down with Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen to talk about her first months on the job, how she's prioritizing public health needs, and how her personal story instructs her vision for health policy and progress in Baltimore.