Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

airport in Arlington County, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., United States

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (IATA: DCA, ICAO: KDCA, FAA LID: DCA) is an airport near Washington, D.C.. It is in Arlington County, Virginia.[2] It is the commercial airport closest to Washington, D.C. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is in control of the airport. It is named after 40th President of the United States Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Washington national airport.jpg
Airport typePublic
OwnerMetropolitan Washington Airports Authority
United States Government
OperatorMetropolitan Washington Airports Authority
ServesWashington metropolitan area
LocationArlington, Virginia, U.S.
OpenedJune 16, 1941; 81 years ago (1941-06-16)[1]
Hub forAmerican Airlines
Elevation AMSL15 ft / 5 m
Coordinates38°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
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
Location in immediate Washington, D.C. area
DCA is located in Virginia
DCA (Virginia)
DCA is located in the United States
DCA (the United States)
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
Statistics (2018)
Aircraft operations293,827
Total Passengers23,464,618
Source: Federal Aviation Administration,[2] Passenger traffic[3]
Washington National Airport Terminal
and South Hangar Line
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is located in Virginia
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is located in the United States
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
LocationThomas Ave.
Arlington, Virginia
Area18.1 acres (7.3 ha)
Built1941 (1941), 81 years ago
Architectural styleModerne
NRHP reference No.97001111[4]
VLR No.000-0045
Significant dates
Added to NRHPSeptember 12, 1997
Designated VLRJune 27, 1995[5]

Flights into and out of DCA cannot be longer than 1,250 miles (2,010 km). This rule is used to limit the number of aircraft over Washington. It causes most of the air traffic to be sent to the Washington Dulles International Airport which is larger and further from the city. There are some exceptions to this rule. In 2010, the airport served about 18.1 million passengers.[6] Reagan National is a focus city for American Airlines. They are the airport's largest carrier. The American Airlines Shuttle has air shuttle service to LaGuardia Airport in New York City and Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts. Delta Air Lines' Delta Shuttle also has air shuttle service to LaGuardia. These shuttle flights leave Reagan International about once an hour. An exception to this rule permits 20 long-haul flights a day. Most are from the west coast: non-stops from Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland Oregon. However, San Juan Puerto Rico is also part of this group. These exemptions were created in 2003 and 2012.


Hoover Field, which opened in 1926, was the first major terminal in the Washington area and was located on a piece of land close to where the Pentagon stands today. The airport had one runway that crossed a local street, which meant that tarmac workers had to stop automobile traffic during take-offs and landings. The next year, Washington Airport, another privately operated field[1],was opened next to it. In 1930, the economic turmoil caused by the Great Depression caused the two terminals to join to form Washington-Hoover Airport. Washington-Hoover Airport's initial field was in a poor and undesirable location. On one side of the airport was U.S. Route 1, an important highway in the D.C. area. The highway had electrical wires running alongside it, meaning that it posed as a threat to planes that landed and took off from the field. Additionally, there was also a smokestack that was dangerously close and in the way of one of the runway. A dump was also very close to the airport.

Thirty-seven studies done between 1926 and 1938 showed the need for a better airport.[1] However, due to a law that did not allow the federal government to build airports, it could not be considered or planned for. On top of this, Congress refused to even attempt to make plans for a new airport. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, knowing this information, grew tired of waiting on Congress, and moved forward with attempting to create the new airport, which he could do on the technicality that he was allowed to spend money when Congress was not in session. He used that power to spend $15 million to construct a new airport that better served the nation's capital, and construction on Washington National Airport broke ground in 1938. Congress did not think that what FDR did was legal, but did not stop the construction from being built.[7]

The airport today sits south of Washington, D.C., parallel to U.S. Route 1. The eastern side of the airport had to be enlarged to make room for the runways, so developers filled in a small section of the Potomac River to make room for them. The western part of the airport was once part of a large Virginia plantation, known as Abingdon. For many years the plantation house was near where the airport parking lot stands today, but in 1930, the house burned down. In 1998, efforts to preserve the site of where the house once stood were made by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, and a small exhibit of the house exists today in Terminal 1 of the airport.

The airport opened on June 16, 1941.[1] In 1945, Congress passed a law that said that the airport was in Virginia but under the control of the federal government.[1]

The April 1957 Official Airline Guide shows that the airport had 316 weekday departures.

In 1977, the Washington Metro opened a station at the airport along the Blue and Yellow lines.[8]


The location of the runways is limited by the location of the airport. It has not changed much over time. One of the few changes was made in 1956. The fourth runway was closed. It was an east-west runway. It is now used just for moving aircraft and for parking them. The terminal building was made larger in 1958. The North Terminal was added. The two buildings were connected in 1961. A United Airlines building was built in 1965. Facilties for American Airlines were built in 1968. A commuter terminal was built in 1970.[1]

Although the airport has been made larger, there have been efforts to limit this. Because of the use of jet aircraft and the amount of traffic, Congress passed the Washington Airport Act of 1950. This caused the opening of Dulles Airport in 1962. Problems with noise caused noise restrictions to be made. This happened before jet aircraft use began in 1966. The Federal Aviation Administration put restrictions on National and four other airports in 1969 to limit problems with high amounts of traffic.

Transfer of control and renamingEdit

In 1984, Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole created a group to look into moving control of National and Dulles Airports from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to a local group. The selected group(s) could use the money the airports made to pay make them better.[7] The group felt that it would be better for one agency to be in control of both airports. The other choice was to have Virginia control Dulles and the District of Columbia control National.[7] In 1987, Congress gave control of the airport from the FAA to the new Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).[9] This groups choices were still under the control of a Congressional review panel. The constitutionality of the review panel was later challenged in the Supreme Court. The Court has twice said that it was not constitutional.[10] Even after this, Congress still takes control of the airports.[11]

In 1998, some friends of Ronald Reagan wanted to name things in all 50 states after him. They wanted a law that would change the name of the airport to "Ronald Reagan Airport". Democratic Congressmen thought it would be better to change the name of the building of the Bureau of the Public Debt instead. They said that the airport was already named after George Washington. Congress chose to change the name of the airport to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Because of the length of the name, many people call it "National Airport". Congress did not give money to make new signs with the new names. Because of this, it took time for the name to be used commonly. The name of the airport's Metro station is still "National Airport". In early 2001, a letter signed by 24 members of Congress asked that WMATA change the name of the station. A policy from 1987 says that if a group wants to change the name of a station that they must pay the cost of changing the signs and maps. The price to make these changes was thought to be $400,000. Because of this, the name was not changed.[12] This caused Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia to say they would not give money to the agency unless the station was renamed.[12] Congress ultimately voted to require the renaming on November 30.[13] According to the General Manager at the time, Richard A. White, Metro paid to rename the station.[14]


Passenger serviceEdit

Destinations with non-stop service from the airport.
An American Eagle ERJ outbound from the airport (2006)

Cargo AirlinesEdit


Air Florida Flight 90Edit

On the afternoon of January 13, 1982,[15] after some very cold weather and a morning of blizzard conditions, Air Florida Flight 90 crashed on take-off. It had been waiting forty-nine minutes on a taxiway and took off with ice and snow on the wings. The Boeing 737 aircraft could not gain altitude. Less than 1 mile (1.6 km) from the end of the runway, the airplane hit the 14th Street Bridge. It cut off the tops off vehicles and fell through the 1-inch-thick (25 mm) ice covering the Potomac River. The weather and traffic caused problems with helping the people on the plane. With the help of people in the cars, a United States Park Service police helicopter crew, and one of the plane's passengers who later died, five people on the plane were saved. The other 74 people on the plane died. Four people in the vehicles on the bridge also died.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 "History". Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. 2011. Retrieved 2011-03-24.
  2. 2.0 2.1 FAA Airport Master Record for DCA (Form 5010 PDF)
  3. "Reagan Air Traffic Statistics". Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. January 2019. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
  4. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
  5. "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved May 12, 2013.
  6. "Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) Air Traffic Statistics". Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Feaver, Douglas B. (July 16, 1997). "Years of Deal-Making Enabled Change From 'Disgrace' to Showplace". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-12-20.
  8. "History of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport". Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-06-23. Retrieved 2011-03-24.
  9. "Metropolitan Washington Airports Act of 1986", Public Law No. 99-500, Section 6001
  10. Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority v. Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc., 501 U.S. 252 (1991).
  11. This can be seen by Congress's making laws to control the amount of flights in and out of National Airport. It is also seen in laws about the size of the airport and limits on flights.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Layton, Lyndsey (April 21, 2001). "Riders rail at cost of 'Reagan' Metro stop". The Washington Post. p. B2.
  13. Schrag, Zachary (2006). The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 258. ISBN 080188246X.
  14. LunchTalk Online Archived 2010-01-13 at the Wayback Machine transcript, June 17, 2005
  15. "We're Going Down, Larry". Time. Vol. 119, no. 7. February 15, 1982. p. 21. Archived from the original on 2011-01-22. Retrieved 2011-03-24.

This article uses public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Other websitesEdit