Wright Brothers' 1903 Aeroplane Kitty Hawk in First Flight (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

On Dec. 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made history when they flew a “heavier-than-air” machine. Since then, aircraft technology has evolved and air travel has skyrocketed, especially this time of year. Airlines for America, an aviation industry association representing major commercial carriers, projects that holiday air travel will see another year of record growth, with an estimated 45.7 million passengers traveling on U.S. airlines for the holidays. With air travel showing no sign of slowing down, here’s a look back at where the region’s airports started, where they are now and what they have planned for the future.

Construction began on Washington National Airport (DCA) on Nov. 21, 1938, and officially opened for business June 16, 1941. The airlines planning to operate from the new National Airport drew straws to determine who would get the honor of being the first to land – and American Airlines won. In its first year, DCA saw 344,257 passengers and more than 1.5 million visitors. People came from all over the world to marvel at Washington’s beautiful, technologically advanced airport from the observation terrace built just for that occasion.

DCA National Hall in 2005 (Photo: MWAA)

DCA opening day June 16, 1941 (Photo: MWAA)

Additional expansions and building resulted in the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport that is known today, with its iconic domes soaring over the Potomac. Today’s airport has three runways, 44 gates, and nearly 100 shops and restaurants that provide an array of national and regional retail and food options. Eight airlines serve DCA, compared to its original two, and the airport welcomes nearly 24 million passengers per year.

To accommodate the growing number of air travelers, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority kicked off a multi-year capital improvement project at Reagan National in 2017. The construction effort, called Project Journey, is transforming the passenger experience in two ways. As part of Project Journey, Reagan National is building two new centralized security checkpoints, offering passengers more shopping and dining choices as well as easy connectivity between concourses. In addition, Project Journey involves the construction of a state-of-the-art, 14-gate concourse designed to replace Gate 35X that will keep passengers out of the weather and off a shuttle bus.

IAD main concourse in 1962 (Photo: Balthazar Korab, Library of Congress)

Although Reagan National Airport was highly successful from the beginning, the need for another airport near Washington became apparent as the 1940s progressed. Congress passed the Washington Airport Act of 1950 to make another airport in the National Capital Region possible: Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), named after former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, opened just 12 years later on Nov. 17, 1962. Dulles International served 52,846 passengers and hosted six different airlines in its first year.

Dulles at sunset in 2013 (Photo: MWAA)

Like its sister airport, Dulles International has made a lot of changes since opening day. IAD now encompasses more than 12,000 acres of land, three terminal buildings, four runways and a whopping 139 airline gates. The airport has 37 airlines that carry nearly 23 million passengers per year.

Air travel as an industry is growing swiftly, with 3.8 billion travelers reported in 2016 and a projected 7.2 billion annual passengers expected by 2035, according to the International Air Transport Association.