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Air Service One talks with… Paul Bobson, Vice President – Airline Business Development, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

Paul Bobson

Air Service One had the opportunity to talk with Paul Bobson, Vice President – Airline Business Development Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority ahead of this year’s ACI-NA JumpStart conference also taking place in Washington DC.  We wanted to find out about the success story behind both of the capital’s airports, which markets he would like to see better connectivity to and what the expectations are moving forward!  This being Air Service One talks with.. we also asked a few fun questions to get know Paul a little better.

 

Could you tell us how did Washington’s two metropolitan airports perform last year and where they are in terms of their recovery?

The Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority hosted 50.6 million total passengers in 2023, setting a new travel record at National Airport and Washington Dulles International. This achievement was driven by strong demand at both airports, resulting in a new passenger record at National and an international passenger record at Washington Dulles.

National broke its all-time passenger traffic record with 25.5 million passengers in 2023. This count exceeded the previous record in 2022 by 6.2 percent, despite flight reductions to accommodate a runway rehabilitation project and capacity limitations at New York City airports. To further improve the passenger experience, DCA Reimagined is underway to upgrade Terminal 2 restroom facilities, enhance shopping and dining options and create innovative spaces to relax at the gates and throughout the terminals.

As the fastest growing international gateway airport in the United States, Washington Dulles International raised the bar in 2023 with 9.3 million international passengers – a new record that exceeded 2022’s international activity by 26.9 percent. Combined with domestic activity, the airport logged 25.1 million passengers for the year. The upward trend can be credited to a strong resurgence in travel demand that led to eight new airlines launching nonstop flights to destinations around the globe over the past two years. With new flights announced for 2024, this brings the airport’s total to 42 airlines and 139 destinations (80 domestic, 59 international).

 

MWAA recently awarded a ten-year contract to Fraport USA to lease, develop and manage Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport. Can you tell us more about it?

Fraport Washington will be MWAA’s Fee Manager to lease, develop and manage both airports.  Fraport will not operate any concessions.  They are an extension of the MWAA team to help deliver on our goal to elevate the passenger experience at both airports.

We are currently in a massive redevelopment of the program that resulted from several rounds of solicited spaces after the devastating impact of the pandemic.  This redevelopment meant a new vision for the program, with a focus on providing more local concepts, giving our passengers a taste of the DC region, incorporating more healthy options, and including a mix of desired and recognizable national brands, ensuring there is something for everyone.

Even though the Fee Manager may have changed, the vision for MWAA has stayed the same, more local concepts, healthy options and desired brands.  After the initial spaces were solicited, we are now seeing the fruits of that labor. At National, we opened concepts like Starbucks, The Goods@DCA, iStore, Vino Volo, Dunkin, Inside the Beltway, and most recently BOSS, Lucky Buns, and Half Moon Empanadas.  At Dulles, we opened several travel convenience stores like Hudson Non-Stop, Market 1962, Ink by Hudson, along with quick casual restaurants like Extreme Pita, Rusty Taco and DC based CAVA Mezze Grill.

Currently we have many locations under construction and opening this year.  At National, we will see TUMI, Compass Coffee, Atlas Brew Works, Zeke’s Coffee, LEGO, Eastern Market, Dos Toros, Five Guys, CAVA and Neighborgoods, and destination restaurants like BusBoys & Poets and Mi Vida.

At Dulles we will see Gatsby, Union Kitchen, Folina, Urban Crave, Ben’s Chili Bowl, Rappahannock Oyster Co, South Block and Freshii just to name a few.

 

Washington Dulles was one of the fastest growing international gateways in the US last year and boasts an impressive network. What geographical areas and markets would you like to see better connectivity to in the future?

Of our six global tracked regions (Canada, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia) we have tied or exceeded the US average in all regions except Asia. Asia is the only global region yet to fully recover from the pandemic. When comparing 2019 with 2024, capacity to Latin America is up 179%, capacity to Africa is up 139%, capacity to the Middle East is up 123% and capacity to Europe is up 120%. Washington Dulles also has more nonstop destinations to Africa than any other US airport.

The lag of our Asia rebound, and growth can primarily be attributed to continued limited frequencies between China and the United States. United Airlines has yet to resume their daily service to Beijing and Air China is currently operating 2x weekly service that relaunched at the end of November 2023. Korean Air has resumed daily service to Seoul, both ANA and United offer daily service to Tokyo- Haneda and Air India now offers 5x weekly service to Delhi.

Currently 80% of our top unserved international markets are in Asia.

IAD top unserved International Markets

  • Hyderabad, India (107 PDEW)
  • Mumbai, India with (78 PDEW)
  • Manila, Philippines with (69 PDEW)
  • Singapore (42 PDEW)
  • Bangkok, Thailand (58 PDEW)

 

The Biden administration recently allocated $35 million for Dulles Airport. What will the funds be used for?

As one of the fastest growing airports in the world it’s important that we always maintain enough capacity to facilitate the growth of our airline partners. In 2024 we broke ground on a new 14 gate concourse known as Tier-2 East or the “E Concourse”. This new concourse will help our largest airline partner, United Airlines continue their growth at Washington Dulles. The new concourse will mix the iconic Saarinen legacy with local biophilia and the heart of the Washington DC metro region to usher in the future of the nation’s capital international gateway. Currently anticipated to be operational in 2026 passengers will enjoy larger seating areas, more unique concessions, new lounges and other innovative passenger experience amenities.

 

Prague International Airport

The ULCC presence at Washington Dulles is relatively small with Allegiant, PLAY, Sun Country and Volaris operating a handful of routes, while Southwest is the only domestic LCC. Do you see a chance for greater low-cost carrier presence at Washington Dulles?

As the gateway to the Washington, D.C. and the great national capital region, Dulles International is committed to offering a wide variety of airline products for our local community to access global travel. Our 42 global airline partners offer a diverse mix of products and destinations that meet the needs of the third largest metropolitan area in the United States. At $117,000, our region boasts the highest median household income in the United States. A large and educated population with a propensity to travel multiple times a year is a fantastic opportunity for our existing and potential new airline partners.

 

What are your expectations this year in terms of passenger traffic at the two airports?

Through the first quarter of 2024, traffic is up at both of our airports. Rising local demand and increased transfer traffic continue to lift National Airport. At Washington Dulles, demand for both international and domestic service continues to push numbers to record levels. We currently anticipate 2024 to exceed 2023 enplanements at both airports.

We are in an incredibly strong position across our airport system as we move into 2024 and beyond for several reasons. First, we have continued to focus on cost containment and operational efficiency, this has helped to lower the 2024 average CPE down to only $13.98. Second, our new Use & Lease agreement (effective in 2025) provides opportunities for our legacy and new airline partners to grow with us in Washington DC. Third, our airport system is more connected than ever to the national capital region thanks to the metro rail train service at both of our airports.

Finally, and what I think is most important, we have assembled the best team in air service development here in Washington DC. I am proud of the fact that we conduct 100% of our business internally and do not utilize consultants. I think the proof of our formula sits in our success numbers.

 

Air Service Fun

Favourite US airport outside of Washington?

Jackson Hole

Easiest three letter airport code to remember?

IAD

Favourite airline livery among US carriers?

Hawaiian but all time Favorite is the Landor Livery with British Airways.

Favourite place to visit in DC (apart from the airports of course) and why?

 I live outside of the city in Reston where I love the walking and cycling trails. In the city there is nothing like Georgetown or the tidal basin in the spring and summer.

All-time favourite seat?

74 upper deck 64K or 18J (IYKYK)

Boeing 747

Favourite sport to watch/play?

Avoiding gate lice.

Which city/country would you most like to visit (that you haven’t been to yet)?

 Egypt

Billund Airport