By Winston Shek
Washington’s Dulles International Airport’s Preliminary Plans to Build New Concourse with United Airlines
Washington’s Dulles International Airport may receive a new concourse by 2025 to replace the airport’s Concourse A regional gates, according to a letter from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, viewed by AirlineGeeks.
The airport’s Concourse A regional gates were first built in 1999 as an $18 million regional concourse for Atlantic Coast Airlines, a regional operator for the airport’s United Airlines hub. Later on, amid United’s bankruptcy in 2002, the airline became the short-lived low-cost Independence Air in 2004. After Independence Air’s bankruptcy, the gates were operated by United Airlines’ regional partners for its turboprops and regional jets.
However, recently, United Airlines announced its fleet growth strategy, known as United Next, involving the retirement of 200 single-class 50-seat regional jets and an influx of 138 narrowbody aircraft in 2023 and 354 narrowbody aircraft in 2024 and beyond. Amid this new future fleet mix, United Airlines would see lowered utilization of its Concourse A regional gates, as the Chicago-based carrier up gauges the aircraft it flies on every route of its Dulles hub.
MWAA notes in the letter, “The existing Concourse A regional aircraft gates were designed to support small (50 seats and under) ground-loaded regional aircraft operations and are now functionally obsolete as airlines serving IAD accelerate the retirement of turboprop and 50-seat regional jet aircraft in favor of larger regional aircraft. As a result, airlines are finding the layout of the confined apron adjoining the Concourse A regional aircraft gates operationally inefficient for maneuvering and servicing these larger regional aircraft into and out of existing parking positions.”
As a result, the Concourse A regional gates will be demolished and replaced by aircraft hardstands and an area for ground-service parking. To add increased gate capacity, the MWAA highlights preliminary plans to construct a 414,000 sq. ft. three-story concourse, including 35,000 sq. ft. for a lounge. The proposed concourse, located on top of and to the east of the current Concourse C/D Aerotrain station, would be built upon the future site of the Tier II Concourse, a proposed replacement to United Airlines’ temporary Concourse C/D concourse, which was built in 1985.
If the plan is approved, the letter proposes a construction start date of October 2023, with proposed completion in 2025.
Amid these detailed plans, according to AirlineWeekly, MWAA spokesman Robert Yingling states that the proposal is part of a study for “potential concepts of future facilities” at Dulles. Additionally, United Airlines spokesman Kimberly Gibbs adds that the airline is looking forward to working with the MWAA on the project, but declined to elaborate on further details.
The letter is part of the process by the MWAA to finalize its environmental review on the project, in cooperation with the FAA and compliant with federal and state regulations. A public comment period on the project lasted and ended on July 7, with the full review slated to be out by August 6, according to AirlineWeekly.
Similarly, Washington’s Reagan National Airport announced an initiative to demolish the airport’s loathed regional bus gates – Gate 35X – as part of its Project Journey program. The MWAA constructed a new 14 gate concourse for American Airlines, which held a soft opening in April 2021. In the future, a new security checkpoint will open at the airport, allowing for streamlined connections and a “Secure National Hall” for passengers.
Amid the replacement of the Concourse A regional gates, there is no mention of a plan to replace the temporary Concourse C/D gates, first built in 1985. Travelers passing through the airport are either indifferent or critical of the temporary facility, amid the MWAA’s attempts to renovate the concourse.
In the past couple of decades, Washington Dulles International Airport saw an infrastructure program known as Dulles D2, which included a new underground air-people-mover system, a new fourth runway, an expanded Concourse B and an expanded international arrivals facility. However, this occurred during the onset of the 2001 September 11 attacks and the 2008 financial recession, causing debt, the cost per passenger and the cost per enplanement to skyrocket as carriers lowered service.
Due to the high cost per enplanement, Virginia pitched $50 million to help alleviate debt, in addition to a revenue-sharing agreement, which has allowed for carriers like United to grow. From 2018 to 2021, United Airlines has grown its presence in Florida from Washington Dulles, starting flights to Fort Myers, Key West, Miami, Panama City, Pensacola, Sarasota and West Palm Beach. Pre-pandemic, according to FlightGlobal, the airline was looking at adding two to four banks to the airport, an increase from a pre-pandemic total of four banks.