A Public Airport for the District of Columbia: The History of Washington Dulles International Airport




Clark, Ray W.

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On November 17, 1962, President Kennedy dedicated Dulles International Airport. Located on the border of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, Dulles International was the world’s first airport built to accommodate jetliners. Despite this distinction, the airport languished for the next ten years. This dissertation examines the reasons behind the airport’s failure to attract passengers and what led to its eventual success. First planned in the years immediately following the second world war the region’s second commercial airport was to be completed by 1955. However, the initial location for the airport in Burke, VA proved unpopular, forcing the Civil Aeronautics Administration to halt construction until it found an alternative location. One difficulty in locating a site for the airport was the resistance on the part of the Civil Aeronautics Administration and its successor the Federal Aviation Agency to modify their plans to adapt to political and community demands. Dulles’ design incorporated several innovative features this agency considered necessary for all future airports and planned to use this new airport as the example for others to follow. This inflexibility was grounded in the high-modernist mindset of the government. This mindset was also present in the architect selected to design the terminal building, Eero Saarinen. Saarinen also sought to change how the traveling public used airport terminals by giving the passengers who used the buildings priority over the aircraft. The result was an airport 26 miles from the White House that had to compete with National Airport for passengers and saddled with a terminal building the airlines found impractical.



American history, Public policy, Urban planning, Airport, Burke Airport, Northern Virginia, Tysons Corners, Washington Dulles International, Washington National Airport