That Dulles and the federal government were so closely linked led to charges of impropriety, particularly in Maryland, where residents feared for the future of Friendship Airport near Baltimore. Since the moment it opened in 1950, Friendship—now Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport—had been a burden on the coffers of Baltimore. The year 1959, however, seemed to mark a turning point. It was then that jet service came to the airport, and though Friendship still lost $174,000 that year, passenger totals increased, leading to a feeling of cautious optimism. Many of those travelers came from Washington.
With Dulles now challenging Friendship’s monopoly on the region’s jet service, Baltimore’s aviation authorities launched a $1.5-million campaign to expand and improve facilities. Friendship may not have been making any money, but the airlines were. Why would they leave a sure bet at Friendship, argued Baltimore’s director of aviation, John Q. Colonna, for the unknown territory of an airport that could potentially sit idle for years?
For Colonna and other Marylanders, any competition with the federal government was never going to be a fair fight. In February 1962, Charles P. Crane, chair of Baltimore’s airport board, threatened to take the government to court. Federal officials, he said, had a financial stake in luring airlines to their new airport. And after 13 airlines—including TWA, Pan Am, and Northeast—entered into agreements with Dulles that year, Maryland senator J. Glenn Beall took to the floor of the US Senate in August, calling Dulles “a federally conceived, federally planned, federally financed and federally constructed boondoggle.” The FAA administrator, Beall said, shouldn’t “wear the two hats of airport promoter and impartial aviation regulator at the same time.”
It wasn’t until 1987, after President Ronald Reagan signed a bill transferring administration of Dulles to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, that the airport was removed from the immediate purview of the federal government.
During his impassioned Senate speech, Beall also took aim at Dulles’s spiraling budget. The airport’s initial cost of $50 million to $60 million rose by the end to $175 million. As FAA administrator Najeeb Halaby admitted to Congress, mistakes and poor planning had led to both rising costs and construction delays. To Beall’s charge that the budget had been mismanaged, the government could offer no response.
There was another area in which mismanagement had led to problems: the airport’s mobile lounges. Much scorned through the years, these vehicles were an integral part of the airport’s design, considered revolutionary in the way they minimized a passenger’s walking time from parking lot to aircraft. You simply entered the terminal, checked in, and awaited a mobile lounge, which took you directly to your airplane—total walking distance: 200 feet.
Developed by the Chrysler Corporation and the Budd Company of Philadelphia, the lounges, which could accommodate about 100 passengers, eliminated “the time-consuming upstairs-downstairs routine of moving passengers from the departure level down to a tarmac-level bus and then back up to board the plane,” writes Antonio Román in Eero Saarinen: An Architecture of Multiplicity. The lounges were meant to be stylish places of repose, where you could read a magazine, smoke a cigarette, and chat up an air hostess while sheltered from the rain or snow.
The FAA was never really sold on the concept, and justifying the expense to Congress turned out to be a challenge—especially once the derisive reviews started coming in. Typical was an article in the Architectural Forum that called the mobile lounge a “lumbering beast, at best.” In February 1962, a House Appropriations subcommittee held hearings to review the FAA’s $811-million budget proposal for the following fiscal year, and the lounges came under fire.
“The field is great,” said Massachusetts Democratic congressman Edward P. Boland to Najeeb Halaby, who had been called to testify, “the building is magnificent, but why in the world did we ever get into this monstrosity of a mobile lounge?” The lounges, Halaby said, had been agreed upon before he became FAA administrator in March 1961. He conceded that the vehicle was a “beast,” but he also explained that the terminal had been designed with the lounges in mind and that retaining them would be cheaper than reconfiguring the airport.
So how much, Boland asked, did these lumbering beasts cost?
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