Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Color enhanced USGS satellite image of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, taken April 26, 2002. Its runways end mere feet from the Potomac River. The highrises of Crystal City are visible in the upper left corner of the image.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington County, Virginia is the closest commercial airport to Washington, D.C. Its IATA airport code is DCA and its ICAO airport code is KDCA.

Originally Washington National Airport, it was named after former President Ronald Reagan in 1998. Its original name remains on the stone facade of the historic terminal (Terminal A), and it is still widely known as "National" or "Washington National," although the formulation "Reagan National" has gained currency.

It is a focus city for US Airways, the largest carrier. The US Airways Shuttle and Delta Shuttle offer air shuttle service to LaGuardia Airport in New York City and Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts. With a handful of exceptions, flights are restricted to destinations within 1250 miles (2012 km), in an effort to control aviation noise and to drive air traffic to the larger but more distant Washington Dulles International Airport. In 2004 it served approximately 15.9 million passengers.[1] (



Washington National Airport was built by the federal government on mudflats alongside the Potomac River at Gravelly Point, 7 km (4 miles) south of Washington, D.C. It replaced Hoover Field, which was located near the present-day Pentagon and had a single runway intersected by a local street (guards had to stop automobile traffic during takeoffs and landings). National Airport opened on June 16, 1941. It served as a hub for Capital Airlines.

Though located in Virginia, much of the site had been underwater—in District of Columbia territory. A 1945 law established the airport as legally within Virginia but under the jurisdiction of Congress.

Rapid growth in air traffic led to the construction of runway extensions in 1950 and 1955. The runway layout—limited due to the location and orientation of the airport—has otherwise changed little, except for the 1956 closure of a fourth, east-west runway now used for taxiing and aircraft parking. The terminal building was supplemented by the completion of the North Terminal in 1958; the two were connected in 1961.

Despite the expansions, several efforts have been made to restrict the growth of the airport. Concerns about aviation noise led to the imposition of noise restrictions even before jet service began in 1966. Meanwhile, the advent of jet aircraft as well as traffic growth led Congress to pass the Washington Airport Act of 1950, which resulted in the opening of Dulles Airport in 1962. To control congestion and drive traffic to alternative airports, the Federal Aviation Administration to impose landing slot and perimeter restrictions on National and four other high-density airports in 1969.

Service to the airport's dedicated Metro station began in 1977.

On the afternoon of January 13, 1982, following a period of exceptionally cold weather and a morning of blizzard conditions, Air Florida Flight 90 crashed after waiting forty-nine minutes on a taxiway and taking off with ice and snow on the wings. The Boeing 737 aircraft failed to gain altitude. Less than a mile from the end of the runway, the airplane struck the 14th Street Bridge complex, shearing the tops off vehicles stuck in traffic before plunging through the one-inch thick ice covering the Potomac River. Rescue responses were greatly hampered by the weather and traffic. Due to heroic actions initiated by a number of motorists, a United States Park Service police helicopter crew, and one of the plane's passengers who perished, 5 occupants of the downed plane survived. However, 74 persons who had been aboard the doomed airplane and 4 occupants of vehicles on the bridge died.

The federal government relinquished control of National Airport as well as Dulles in 1987, when President Reagan signed a bill creating the independent Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Congress has continued to intervene in the management of the airports, however. On February 6, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed legislation changing the airport's name from National Airport to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, to honor the former president on his 87th birthday—a decision made without any input from area residents. Indeed, the Washington Metro system initially resisted renaming its station serving the airport, arguing that that the high cost of new signage was unnecessary and that the old signs were perfectly clear. Congress responded by threatening the system with budget cuts; Metro authorities backed down and renamed the station.

Similarly, Senator John McCain of Arizona introduced legislation in 1999 to remove the 1250-mile perimeter restriction, infuriating local residents concerned about noise and traffic from increased service by larger, long-haul aircraft. McCain argued the move would improve competition, while critics charged he was supporting the interests of Phoenix, Arizona-based America West Airlines (AWA). In the end the restriction remained, but the FAA permitted to add additional exemptions, which went not to AWA but to competitor Alaska Airlines.

The airport underwent an extensive renovation and expansion in the 1990s, with the new terminals B and C opening on July 27, 1997.

Prior to the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks, the airport had 792 scheduled commercial flights a day. After the attacks the airport was closed for several weeks, and additional security procedures remain in place for flights into and out of DCA.

Safety and security concerns

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Many pilots regard the "River Visual" approach as one of the most hair-raising in the world.

Because of its proximity to central Washington, the airport has been subject to special security procedures for many years. Before 2001, the most notable of these was the southbound approach into the airport. Most of central Washington is restricted airspace up to 18,000 feet: in order to land on National's southbound runway, pilots had to follow the path of the Potomac River and make a steep turn shortly before landing, in a procedure called the "River Visual." Similarly, flights taking off to the north are required to climb quickly and bank left sharply to avoid the Washington Monument and follow a path which does not go over either the White House or the Pentagon. Employees in high-rise buildings nearby often claimed that they could see passengers' faces in the windows of airplanes flying by, and many pilots complain the path is treacherous even under favorable weather conditions.

When National reopened after the September 11, 2001 attacks, it was subjected to much stricter security measures. Passengers must now remain seated for the 30 minutes following takeoff and preceding landing. Aircraft of more than 156 seats were banned, and the River Visual approach banned until mid-2002. In addition, private planes were no longer allowed access to the airport (with rare exceptions). All of these regulations were intended to prevent terrorist activity similar to the September 11 attacks, when hijackers flew large aircraft into prominent buildings.

Terminals, airlines, and destinations

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FAA diagram of National Airport

US Airways is the largest carrier at the airport, handling 26% of the airport's passenger traffic in 2004. American Airlines, the second-largest, accounts for 12% of traffic.

The airport is subject to a federal "perimeter rule" and is not permitted to accommodate flights to most cities outside a 1,250 mile radius. The FAA has allowed six exceptions: Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Seattle.

Terminal A

Terminal A was the original terminal at National Airport. It opened in 1941 and was expanded over the following years to its present size, with the final expansion completed in 1955. The terminal still accommodates some flights, and it is presently being renovated to restore its original architecture. It has nine gates (gates 1 through 9).

Terminal B/C

Terminal B/C opened in 1997 in the airport's largest expansion to date, replacing a collection of airline-specific terminals built during the 1960s. It has thirty-five gates (gates 10 through 45).

Gates 10-22

Gates 23-34

Gates 35-45

Ground transportation

DCA has a Washington Metro stop, on the Yellow and Blue lines. It is located on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and connected to U.S. Highway 1 by the Airport Viaduct (Virginia State Highway 233).

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