Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

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Ronald Reagan Washington Airport
Logo of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.svg
Washington national airport.jpg
IATA: DCAICAO: KDCAFAA LID: DCA
WMO: 72405
Summary
Airport type Public
Owner Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
Operator Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
Serves Washington Metropolitan Area
Location Arlington County, Virginia
Hub for US Airways
Elevation AMSL 15 ft / 5 m
Coordinates 38°51′08″N 077°02′16″W / 38.85222°N 77.03778°W / 38.85222; -77.03778Coordinates: 38°51′08″N 077°02′16″W / 38.85222°N 77.03778°W / 38.85222; -77.03778
Website http://mwaa.com/reagan/reagan.htm
Maps
A map with a grid overlay showing the terminals runways and other structures of the airport.
FAA airport diagram
DCA is located in District of Columbia
DCA
DCA
Location within Virginia
Runways
Direction Length Surface
ft m
1/19 7,169 2,185 Asphalt
4/22 4,911 1,497 Asphalt
15/33 5,204 1,586 Asphalt
Source: Federal Aviation Administration[1]
Washington National Airport Terminal
and South Hangar Line
Location Thomas Ave.
Arlington, Virginia
Area 18.1 acres (7.3 ha)
Built 1941 (1941), 74 years ago
Architectural style Moderne
Governing body Federal
NRHP Reference # 97001111[2]
VLR # 000-0045
Significant dates
Added to NRHP September 12, 1997
Designated VLR June 27, 1995[3]

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (IATA: DCAICAO: KDCAFAA LID: DCA) is a major airport 3 miles (5 km) south of downtown Washington, D.C., in Arlington County, Virginia (though with a Washington mailing address).[1] It is the nearest commercial airport to the capital and serves the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area. For decades it was called Washington National Airport; it was renamed in 1998 to honor President Ronald Reagan.[4][5] The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) operates the airport with close oversight by the federal government due to its proximity to the national capital.

Reagan National is a hub for American Airlines' merger partner, US Airways, which is Reagan National's largest carrier. US Airways Shuttle, operated by American Airlines, has near-hourly air shuttle flights to New York LaGuardia Airport and Logan International Airport in Boston, and Delta Air Lines' Delta Shuttle has near-hourly air shuttle flights to LaGuardia.

Other than 40 slot exemptions, flights into and out of DCA are not allowed to exceed 1,250 statute miles (2,000 km) in any direction nonstop, in an effort to send air traffic to the larger but more distant Washington Dulles International Airport. In 2010 the airport served about 18.1 million passengers.[6]

Reagan National only has United States immigration and customs facilities for corporate jet traffic; the only international flights allowed to land at DCA are those from airports with U.S. Customs and Border Protection preclearance facilities. Other international passenger flights must use Dulles or Baltimore/Washington International Airport.

History[edit]

Terminal building in July 1941, shortly after it opened. Photograph by Jack Delano.
Terminal building from the tarmac in July, 1941
The airport in 1970
A view of the airport from the Washington Metro

Hoover Field, near the present site of the Pentagon, was the first major terminal to be developed in the Capital area, opening its doors in 1926.[7] The facility's single runway was crossed by a street; guards had to stop automobile traffic during takeoffs and landings. The following year Washington Airport, another privately operated field, began service next door.[8] In 1930 the Depression caused the two terminals to merge to form Washington–Hoover Airport. Bordered on the east by U.S. Route 1, with its accompanying high-tension electrical wires, and obstructed by a high smokestack on one approach and a dump nearby, the field was inadequate.[9]

Although the need for a better airport was acknowledged in 37 studies conducted between 1926 and 1938,[8] there was a statutory prohibition against federal development of airports. When Congress lifted the prohibition in 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a recess appropriation of $15 million to build National Airport by reallocating funds from other purposes. Construction of Washington National Airport began in 1940–41 by a company led by John McShain. Congress challenged the legality of FDR's recess appropriation, but construction of the new airport continued.[10]

The airport is southwest of Washington, D.C. The western part of the airport was once within a large Virginia plantation, a remnant of which is now inside a historic site located near the airport's Metrorail station (see Abingdon (plantation) for history). The eastern part of the airport was constructed in the District of Columbia on and near mudflats that were within the tidal Potomac River near Gravelly Point, about 4 statute miles (6.4 km) from the United States Capitol, using landfill dredged from the Potomac.

The airport opened June 16, 1941.[8] In 1945 Congress passed a law that established the airport was legally within Virginia but under the jurisdiction of the federal government;[8] on July 1 of that year, the airport's weather station became the official point for Washington, D.C.'s weather observations and records by the National Weather Service.[11]

The April 1957 Official Airline Guide shows 316 weekday departures: 95 Eastern (plus six a week to/from South America), 77 American, 61 Capital, 23 National, 17 TWA, 10 United, 10 Delta, 6 Allegheny, 6 Braniff, 5 Piedmont, 3 Northeast and 3 Northwest. Jet flights began in April 1966 (727-200s were not allowed until 1970).[12][citation needed]

Service to the airport's Metro station began in 1977.[13]

The Washington National Airport Terminal and South Hangar Line were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.[2][14]

Expansion[edit]

The runway layout has 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 North Terminal in 1958; the two were connected in 1961. A United Airlines holdroom complex was built in 1965, and a facility for American Airlines was completed in 1968. A commuter terminal was constructed in 1970.[8] In March 2012 the main 1/19 runway was lengthened 300 ft to add FAA compliant runway safety areas.[15]

Despite the expansions, efforts have been made to restrict the growth of the airport. 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. Concerns about aviation noise led to noise restrictions even before jet service began in 1966. To reduce congestion and drive traffic to alternative airports, the FAA imposed landing slot and perimeter restrictions on National and four other high-density airports in 1969.[16]

Transfer of control and renaming[edit]

In 1984 Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole appointed a commission to study transferring National and Dulles Airports from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to a local entity, which could use airport revenues to finance improvements.[10] The commission recommended that one multi-state agency administer both Dulles and National, over the alternative of having Virginia control Dulles and the District of Columbia control National.[10] In 1987 Congress, through legislation,[17] transferred control of the airport from the FAA to the new Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority with the Authority's decisions being subject to a Congressional review panel. The constitutionality of the review panel was later challenged in the Supreme Court and the Court has twice declared the oversight panel unconstitutional.[18] Even after this decision, however, Congress has continued to intervene in the management of the airports.[19]

On February 6, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed legislation[20] changing the airport's name from Washington National Airport to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, to honor the former president on his 87th birthday.[21] The legislation, passed by Congress in 1998,[22] was drafted against the wishes of MWAA officials and political leaders in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.[23][24] Opponents of the renaming argued that a large federal office building had already been named for Reagan (the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center) and that the airport was already named for a United States President (George Washington).[24] The bill expressly stated that it did not require the expenditure of any funds to accomplish the name change; however, state, regional, and federal authorities were later required to change highway and transit signs at their own additional expense as new signs were made.[25][26]

Construction of current terminal buildings[edit]

Control tower and new terminal C

With the addition of more flights and limited space in the aging main terminal, the airport began an extensive renovation and expansion in the 1990s. Hangar 11 on the northern end of the airport was converted into The USAir Interim Terminal, designed by Joseph C. Giuliani, FAIA. Soon after an addition for Delta Air Lines was added in 1989 and was later converted to Authority offices. These projects allowed for the relocation of several gates in the main terminal until the new $450 million terminal complex became operational. On July 27, 1997, the new terminal complex, consisting of terminals B and C and two parking garages, opened. Argentine architect César Pelli designed the new terminals of the airport. The USAir Interim Terminal closed immediately after the opening and was converted back into a hangar. One pier of the main terminal (now Terminal A), which mainly housed American Airlines and Pan Am, was demolished; the other pier, originally designed by Giuliani Associates Architects[citation needed] for Northwest/TWA remains operational today as gates 1–9.

Until 1999, Runways 1/19 and 4/22 were designated 18/36 and 3/21.

Operations[edit]

Tightened security and safety concerns[edit]

Many pilots[27] regard the "River Visual" approach as one of the more interesting in the United States
Line up for takeoff

Given Reagan National Airport's proximity to the city and high-security facilities, Reagan National has extra security precautions required by the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone that have been in place since the airport began operations.[28]

Prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, the notable security measure was the southbound approach into the airport. Most of central Washington D.C. is prohibited airspace up to 18,000 feet (5,500 m). Due to this restriction, pilots approaching from the north follow the path of the Potomac River and turn just before landing. This approach is known as the River Visual. Similarly, flights taking off to the north are required to climb quickly and turn left to avoid the Washington Monument or the White House.[28][29]

After the attacks, the airport was closed for several weeks, and security was tightened when it reopened. Increased security measures included:

  • A ban on aircraft with more than 156 seats (lifted in April 2002)[30]
  • A ban on the "River Visual" approach (lifted in April 2002)[30]
  • A requirement that, 30 minutes prior to landing or following takeoff, passengers were required to remain seated; if anyone stood up, the aircraft was to be diverted to Washington Dulles International Airport under military escort and the person standing would be detained and questioned by federal law enforcement officials (lifted in July 2005)[31]
  • A ban on general aviation (lifted in October 2005, subject to the restrictions below)[32]

On October 18, 2005, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was reopened to general aviation on a limited basis (48 operations per day) and under restrictions: passenger and crew manifests must be submitted to the Transportation Security Administration 24 hours in advance, and all planes must pass through one of 27 "gateway airports" where re-inspections of aircraft, passengers, and baggage take place. An armed security officer must be on board before departing a gateway airport.[33]

On March 23, 2011, the air traffic control supervisor on duty reportedly fell asleep during the night shift. Two aircraft on approach to the airport were unable to contact anyone in the control tower and landed unassisted.[34]

The "River Visual" approach[edit]

Reagan National Airport has some of the strictest noise restrictions in the country.[35] Pilots are required to use the "River Visual" approach (used for runway 19), which follows the Potomac River, and is only possible with a ceiling of at least 3,500 feet (1,100 m) and visibility of 3 statute miles (4.8 km) or more.[36] There are lights on the Key Bridge, Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, Arlington Memorial Bridge, and the George Mason Memorial Bridge to aid pilots following the river. Aircraft using the approach can be observed from various parks on the river's west bank. Passengers on the left side of an airplane can see the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the World War II Memorial, Georgetown University, the National Mall, and the White House. Passengers on the right side can see CIA headquarters, Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon, and the United States Air Force Memorial.

When visibility and ceiling are below minimums for the River Visual and southerly winds restrict northbound runway operations, aircraft fly an offset localizer or GPS approach to Runway 19, again involving a final turn moments before touchdown, or they fly a VOR or GPS approach to either of the shorter Runways 15 and 22, which are marginally long enough for airline jets.[citation needed]

Perimeter restrictions[edit]

Reagan National Airport is subject to a federally mandated perimeter limitation and may not accommodate nonstop flights to or from cities beyond 1,250-statute-mile (2,010 km), with limited exceptions. The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued "beyond-perimeter slot exemptions" which allow specified carriers to operate 20 daily round-trip flights to cities outside the perimeter. The current exemptions are:

Airlines Destinations
Alaska Airlines 8 slots operating as 2x Seattle, 1x Los Angeles, 1x Portland, OR
American Airlines 4 slots operating as 2x Los Angeles
Delta Air Lines 4 slots operating as 2x Salt Lake City
Frontier Airlines 6 slots operating as 3x Denver
JetBlue Airways 2 slots operating as 1x San Juan
Southwest Airlines 2 slots operating as 1x Austin
United Airlines 4 slots operating as 1x Denver, 1x San Francisco
US Airways 8 slots operating as 3x Phoenix, 1x Las Vegas
Virgin America 2 slots operating as 1x San Francisco

In 1999, Senator John McCain of Arizona introduced legislation to remove the 1,250-statute-mile (2,010 km) restriction,[37] infuriating some local residents concerned about noise and traffic from increased service by larger, long-haul aircraft. McCain argued that the move would improve competition, while some congressional staffers thought he was supporting the interests of Phoenix, Arizona-based America West Airlines (AWA).[38] In the end the restriction was not lifted, but the FAA was permitted to add additional exemptions, which went not to AWA but to competitor Alaska Airlines. America West (now US Airways, which is itself now a part of American Airlines Group) later gained additional exemptions for non-stop flights to Phoenix in 2004.

Originally the airport had no perimeter rule; from 1954 to 1960, airlines scheduled nonstop flights to California on piston-engine airliners.[39][40] Scheduled jet airliners were not allowed at all until April 1966; the perimeter rule arrived with them, and apparently applied only to them. The initial perimeter was 650 statute miles (1,050 km), except that airports under 1,000 statute miles (1,600 km) that had scheduled nonstops in 1965 were allowed to retain them. This meant Minneapolis–Saint Paul was allowed nonstop jet flights but Kansas City, New Orleans, and Fort Lauderdale were not. In 1981 the perimeter became a flat 1,000 statute miles (1,600 km); it expanded to 1,250 statute miles (2,010 km), enough to encompass Houston, in 1986–87.

In May 2012, the U.S. Department of Transportation granted new perimeter exemptions for: Alaska Airlines for service to Portland, Ore.; JetBlue Airways for San Juan, Puerto Rico; Southwest Airlines for Austin, Texas; and Virgin America for San Francisco. Additionally, "the new law also allowed four large carriers already serving Reagan National to exchange a total of eight slots for flights within the perimeter for an equal number of slot exemptions to permit nonstop flights beyond the perimeter. As a result, American Airlines traded one round-trip flight to Dallas–Fort Worth for a flight to Los Angeles, Delta Air Lines traded one round-trip flight to New York–LaGuardia Airport for a flight to Salt Lake City, United Airlines traded one round-trip flight to Chicago–O'Hare for a flight to San Francisco, and US Airways traded one round-trip flight to Dallas–Fort Worth for a flight to San Diego."[41]

A view of the airport from the north, showing terminals B and C, taken from Gravelly Point, a popular park for watching planes take off or land
This view of the airport from the north, showing terminals B and C, was taken from Gravelly Point, a popular park for watching planes take off or land

Terminals[edit]

The main hall connecting Terminals B and C

Terminal A[edit]

Terminal A opened in 1941 and was expanded in 1955 to accommodate more passengers and airlines. The exterior of this terminal has had its original architecture restored, with the airside facade restored in 2004 and the landside facade restored in 2008.[42] The terminal is currently undergoing a $37 million renovation that will modernize the airport’s look by bringing in brighter lighting, more windows and new flooring. The project was completed in 2014 along with a new expanded TSA security checkpoint.[43] In 2014, additional renovations were announced including new upgraded concessions and further structural improvements, the project is expected to be completed by 2015.[44] Terminal A contains gates 1-9.

Terminals B and C[edit]

Terminals B and C are the airport's newest and largest terminals; the terminals opened in 1997 and replaced a collection of airline-specific terminals built during the 1960s. The new terminals were designed by architect Cesar Pelli and house 35 gates. Both terminals share the same structure and are directly connected to the WMATA airport station via indoor pedestrian bridges. Terminal B contains gates 10-22, Terminal B/C gates 23-34 and Terminal C gates 35-45.

Airlines and destinations[edit]

Airlines Destinations Terminal
Air Canada Express Montréal–Trudeau, Ottawa, Toronto–Pearson A
Alaska Airlines Los Angeles, Portland (OR), Seattle/Tacoma B
American Airlines Chicago–O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-JFK B/C
American Eagle Chicago–O'Hare, New York–JFK, St. Louis B/C
Delta Air Lines Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Salt Lake City B
Delta Connection Cincinnati, Detroit, Lexington, Madison, New York–JFK, Omaha
Seasonal: Minneapolis/St. Paul
B
Delta Shuttle New York–LaGuardia B
Frontier Airlines Denver A
JetBlue Airways Boston, Charleston (SC), Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Hartford, Jacksonville (FL), Nassau, Orlando, San Juan, Tampa, West Palm Beach
Seasonal: Nantucket [45]
B/C
Southwest Airlines Akron/Canton (ends October 31, 2015), Atlanta, Austin, Chicago-Midway, Columbus (OH), Dallas–Love, Fort Lauderdale (begins August 9, 2015),[46] Fort Myers (ends August 8, 2015), Houston–Hobby, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Nashville, New Orleans, Orlando (begins November 1, 2015),[47] St. Louis, Tampa A
Sun Country Airlines Lansing (ends October 1, 2015),[48] Minneapolis/St. Paul A
United Airlines Chicago–O'Hare, Denver, Houston–Intercontinental, San Francisco B
United Express Chicago–O'Hare, Cleveland, Newark B
US Airways
operated by American Airlines1
Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Nassau, New Orleans, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Providence, Tampa
Seasonal: Bermuda, Detroit, Fort Myers, Kansas City, West Palm Beach
B/C, C
US Airways Express2 Akron/Canton, Albany (NY), Bangor, Birmingham (AL), Buffalo, Burlington (VT), Charleston (SC), Charleston (WV), Charlotte, Chattanooga, Cincinnati, Columbia (SC), Columbus (OH), Dayton, Detroit, Des Moines, Fort Myers, Greensboro, Greenville/Spartanburg, Hartford, Huntsville, Indianapolis, Jackson (MS), Jacksonville (FL), Kansas City, Knoxville, Louisville, Manchester (NH), Memphis, Nashville, Nassau, New Orleans, Norfolk, Orlando, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland (ME), Providence, Raleigh/Durham, Rochester (NY), Sarasota, Syracuse, Toronto–Pearson, West Palm Beach, White Plains
Seasonal: Asheville, Augusta (GA), Fort Lauderdale, Key West, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Tampa
B/C, C
US Airways Shuttle
operated by American Airlines1
Boston, New York–LaGuardia C
Virgin America Dallas–Love, San Francisco B/C

^1 All US Airways flights will be rebranded as American Airlines effective October 17, 2015.

^2 All US Airways Express flights will be rebranded as American Eagle flights effective October 17, 2015.

Traffic and statistics[edit]

Destination map

In 2013, Reagan National Airport handled 20,415,085 passengers, which was a new record.[49] From April 2014 to March 2015, the airport handled 21,195,775 passengers, which is slightly higher than the aforementioned record.[50] American Airlines and US Airways has the largest share of traffic at the airport, accounting for 51% of the market share as of March 2015. Delta Air Lines, the second largest, accounts for 13.9%, with Southwest in third at 13%.[50]