Dulles International Nets $49.6M in Federal Funds for Terminal Improvements
WASHINGTON — Washington Dulles International Airport has been awarded $49.6 million to replace an aging temporary concourse, part of a $1 billion outlay from the Biden administration to replace or improve terminals at 85 airports across the country.
The money awarded through the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday was included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act President Biden signed into law last year.
The grants are intended to expand capacity at our nation’s airport terminals, increase energy efficiency, promote competition and provide greater accessibility for individuals with disabilities.
The only other area airport sharing in the funding opportunity is Richmond International Airport, which is receiving $665,000 for renovation of the on-site federal inspection station to accommodate an anticipated increase in international passengers using the airport and to allow it to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
“Airports are the gateway to America’s communities. They are often the first thing that you see when you arrive in a new place and the last thing you see when you leave,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon.
“These investments are going to make … journeys easier, while also creating good jobs in communities across the country,” he said.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board unanimously approved a plan for the new concourse, officially called “Tier-2 Concourse (East),” in April, with construction set to begin in 2023 and an opening date in 2026.
According to a fact sheet distributed by the authority on Thursday, the project is being undertaken, “to improve passenger access and environmental performance, upgrade customer amenities and support future growth and competition.”
The new concourse will be about four times larger than the temporary structure it is replacing and comes with a price tag currently estimated at between $500 million and $800 million.
Costs not covered by the federal grant will mostly be raised through the issuance of bonds.
Currently, passengers for regional flights from about a half dozen gates in the 23 temporary concourses have to leave the building and walk to their planes to board. Those gates will no longer be used once the new structure is in place.
In addition, the new concourse will be located atop the current underground Concourse C/D Aerotrain station, giving passengers quick, convenient and easy access to the new gates through the current Aerotrain system, as well as ease connecting times for passengers transiting through Dulles International.
Among the planned amenities for the new 400,000 square-foot, 14-gate concourse are an airline lounge,
concessions, restrooms and offices and operational areas for servicing aircraft, handling baggage and other airport and airline functions.
The preliminary work completed for the concourse calls for it to be designed and built to LEED Silver Certifiable standards, with sustainability and environmental performance as key priorities, including electric vehicles to service aircraft and carry passengers, increasing the usage of the electric Aerotrain to move passengers to and from the new gates, and energy-efficient construction of the building, incorporating features such as LED lighting, high R-value insulation and high-efficiency climate control systems.
“This state-of-the-art facility will help deliver a best-in-class customer experience for our passengers at Dulles, and provide them with more flights to more destinations,” said Nathan Lopp, vice president of corporate real estate for United Airlines, which will be the main tenant of the new concourse.
In a statement issued Thursday morning, the airports authority said it “appreciates the $49.6 million grant, announced by the Biden administration under the bipartisan infrastructure law, to begin building a new concourse at Washington Dulles International Airport.”
“This project will be the first step in upgrading aging facilities at the airport to enhance customer service and meet evolving infrastructure needs. We are grateful to our partners at United Airlines and members of the Northern Virginia congressional delegation as well as officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia and local governments for their strong support of this effort. We are also grateful to regional business groups for their support in this competitive grant process,” the statement said.
Other big winners in the grant contest include Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, which secured two grants totaling $62 million; Denver International Airport, at $60 million; Orlando International Airport, at $50 million; Los Angeles International LAX, also $50 million; Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, at $49.6 million; Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, at $40 million; George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, at $40 million; Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, at $35 million; Philadelphia International Airport, at $24 million; Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, at $21.3 million and Pittsburgh International Airport, at $20 million.
During the call with reporters, officials said the initial competition for funding under the new program was fierce, with some 658 applications being submitted by 532 airports.
Both Buttigieg and White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu acknowledged the need to improve and enhance the nation’s airports is great.
“America is a country that brought modern aviation to the world and yet around the world in most rankings of airport quality, not one of our airports rank among the top 25,” Buttigieg said at one point, admitting existing levels of funding for projects has been inadequate for years.
“Airport terminals are not something the federal government has historically invested in,” Landrieu agreed. “It’s typically been local airport owners and airlines that have done that. But the need is evident.”
On the plus side, Landrieu continued, “The $1 billion we are talking about today is just the beginning of what we are going to do to modernize our airports.”
In total, roughly $20 billion has been set aside in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for various airport improvement projects in the coming years.
Though some of the nation’s biggest airports were notably not on the list of grant recipients this time around, officials on the call said many of their needs will likely be addressed as the list of funded projects grows in the coming years.
They also noted that in the case of the nation’s busiest airports, because of the sheer amount of passenger traffic they handle, more money is available for projects from other revenue streams — like the airport improvement fee tacked on to every ticket sold.
Of course, all this talk of pending airport improvements comes during a summer that has been plagued by flight cancellations and delays.
Over the recent July Fourth weekend, over 2,400 domestic flights were canceled. According to the FlightAware website, which tracks delays and cancellations, an additional 2,227 were canceled on Wednesday, while another 23,166 flights were delayed.
As of about 9 a.m. Thursday morning, when this story was being written, 1,681 had already been canceled, while 11,794 were delayed.
“I don’t think anybody could look at airports across America today and say that the existing system and existing levels of funding have been adequate,” Buttigieg said, but he quickly added that the infusion of infrastructure funding will eventually pay dividends in the form of “a better supported, more resilient system for the long term even as we are working through more immediate issues this summer.”
A complete list of recipients and descriptions of their projects can be found here.