Behind the Scenes in Dulles Airport’s Ground Control Towers

Where the busy airport manages ground traffic for 750 daily commercial flights.

Across the taxiways from the elegant Eero Saarinen-designed terminal building at Dulles Airport is the ramp control tower, one of two towers that manage the ground traffic for the hub’s 750 daily commercial flights. (A third control tower follows flights in the air.) Controllers in the ramp tower shepherd all aircraft taxiing into and taking off from Dulles’s four runways and coordinate the “plane mates” rumbling out to ferry passengers. In this photo, in the distance off to the right, a Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, one of the world's largest jumbo jets, touches down on Runway 19-Left after a flight from Frankfurt. In the center, a KLM Airbus A330, just in from Amsterdam, taxis on Taxilane B toward Gate A15. Having tracked these airliners on radar and through a running dialogue with their pilots, ramp controllers at Dulles also rely on their eyes once their charges have landed—and occasionally a pair of binoculars.

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Photograph by Dan Chung.

  • The busiest international routes into Dulles are out of London, Frankfurt, Montreal, and Paris. The busiest domestic routes are Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Atlanta.

  • Dulles served almost 22 million passengers last year, making it the second-busiest area airport after BWI Thurgood Marshall. Almost 7 million of those Dulles passengers flew on international flights.

  • An adjacent Airport Traffic Control Tower, which handles flights in the air, is under the Federal Aviation Administration.

This article appears in the August 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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