Aircraft Spotting Pages - Washington Dulles International Airport

 

This updated map comes from the Google Maps, with modifications made to show the different spots around Washington Dulles International Airport.

Click here for the flight information for IAD.

Directions to Washington Dulles International Airport

Please note that Washington Dulles International Airport is located off of Virginia Route 28 and can be easily accessed via Interstate 66 and Virginia Route 267.  All spotting locations for Dulles are located in locations where you must pay to park.  Rates will be listed in each spot.

Normal Operations at Washington Dulles International Airport

Three parallel runways running nearly north-south, with one runway running roughly southeast to northwest.  When the 1s are in use, arrivals will use Runways 1C and 1R and departures off of 1R or 30 (and sometimes 1C).  Runway 1L is utilized in extremely busy times of the day, usually for arrivals.  When the 19s are in use, 19L and 19C are primarily arrival runways and departures with departures using 19L, 19C, and 30.  Runway 12 is rarely used and 19R is used for arrivals in extremely busy times of the day.  Having been to Dulles multiple times and observed arrival patterns (and getting screwed out of catching particular aircraft), I can deduce the following:

  • When on the 1s:

    • Most arrivals from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and points north will use 1R.

    • Most arrivals from South America and all points south and west of IAD will use 1C.

  • When on the 19s:

    • Most arrivals from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and points north will use 19C.

    • Most arrivals from South America and all points south and west of IAD will use 19L.

Having said all that, please keep in mind that you need to exercise a lot of patience when spotting at IAD as you will go through periods of no activity at any spot you choose.  IAD and DCA share their load of traffic for the Washington, D.C. metro area (which includes all nearly cities and towns along the I-95/495 Beltway in Maryland and Virginia).

Traffic at Washington Dulles International Airport

Washington Dulles International Airport is a hub for United Airlines, this means that the vast majority of scheduled airline traffic into IAD will come from United Airlines and United Express as the two serve over 100 different domestic and international destinations.  To put it into numbers, approximately 65% of all airline traffic into IAD is comprised of United aircraft.  Many international carriers from Central America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East also serve IAD daily.  In addition, IAD is a beehive for business jet activity - you will likely see at least three dozen different private and business jets each day - and you will also see a host of foreign military aircraft and other aircraft carrying foreign diplomats transit through IAD when they cannot get landing clearance at Joint Base Andrews.

United Airlines' mainline traffic includes all single aisle aircraft types in the Airbus and Boeing families.  Widebody traffic is primarily a mix of Boeing 777-200 and 777-200ER with a few 767-300ER flights mixed in.  Currently, United does not fly 747-400s, 787-8s, and 787-9s into IAD.

Spotting Locations

Please note that example photos from each location are listed below each of the respective descriptions, when available.

Spot A is located at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Dulles annex of the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum.  The museum offers AMAZING views of Runway 1R arrivals and you can view 1C arrivals as well.  Part of the museum includes a giant indoor observation deck which offers an even better view of all runways.  For photos, it is recommended that you park towards the southern part of the parking lot, as the aircraft will be above the tree line.  While you can take photos of traffic heading into and out of IAD from the museum's indoor observation deck, it is not recommended due to slightly tinted (and possibly dirty) glass.

While at the museum, please be sure to check out the displays inside.  The Udvar-Hazy Center offers one-of-a-kind historical aircraft and some that, while they aren't one-of-a-kind, they do hold a VERY special part of aviation history (eg. the SR-71 Blackbird set the United States cross country record by flying from California to IAD in just over an hour).

Photography here is best from mid-afternoon onwards as you face nearly due east.

Facilities: There is a McDonalds inside the museum along with restrooms and water fountains.

 

Spot B is located on the grounds of Washington Dulles International Airport on the Daily Garage 1.  Drive to the roof of the parking garage and you will have an excellent view of arrivals to 19L and departures from 1R.  Arrivals to 1C are distant and you can see aircraft line up for departure from 19L.  Departures from 30 are also distant.  Ground shots are nearly impossible from here due to heat haze.

Photography here is best from mid-afternoon onwards as you face nearly due east.

It is also highly recommended that you call the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police and to call the IAD Airport Operations office to advise them of your intent while at this spot.  Both welcome plane spotters on their parking garages and highly appreciate spotters calling in to them to give a head's up.  While private security and MWAA Police do patrol the parking garages, they really appreciate descriptive calls (who you are, what time you plan to be there, make and model and color of your vehicle, etc.).

Finally, keep in mind that parking, as of May 2016, is $6.00 per hour, up to a maximum of $17 daily.

Facilities:  None nearby.  It is highly recommended that you keep a cooler with food and water inside your vehicle if you intend to spend an extended amount of time here.

 

 

Spot C is located on the grounds of Washington Dulles International Airport on the Daily Garage 2.  Drive to the roof of the parking garage and you will have an excellent view of all activity from either Runway 1C or 19C.  Ground shots are possible but keep in mind of heat haze.  Runway 1L, 1R, 19L, 19R, and 30 activity are all distant.  In addition, you also have an excellent view of the main departures hall of Washington Dulles International Airport - the famous terminal designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. 

Photography here is best from morning until mid-afternoon as you face west.

It is also highly recommended that you call the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police and to call the IAD Airport Operations office to advise them of your intent while at this spot.  Both welcome plane spotters on their parking garages and highly appreciate spotters calling in to them to give a head's up.  While private security and MWAA Police do patrol the parking garages, they really appreciate descriptive calls (who you are, what time you plan to be there, make and model and color of your vehicle, etc.).

Finally, keep in mind that parking, as of May 2016, is $6.00 per hour, up to a maximum of $17 daily.

Facilities:  None nearby.  It is highly recommended that you keep a cooler with food and water inside your vehicle if you intend to spend an extended amount of time here.

 

Security

MWAA Police and private security firms patrol the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and the MWAA Police patrol all land inside of IAD.  Keep in mind above that it is highly recommended to contact the MWAA Police directly when at the parking garages to give them a head's up of your presence and intent.