Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

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Continent: North America Country: United States Region: Virginia

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Location Arlington, Virginia
Airport type Commercial
Overview map Google Maps
Tower 119.1
Ground 121.7
Clearance 128.25
Approach 119.85 (West) 124.2 (East)
Departure118.95 (West) 125.65 (East)
ATIS 132.65
Plane Spotting Hotels guide

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) is the closest airport to our nation’s capital, as it is situated directly across the Potomac River from Washington DC. The airport handles over 20 million passengers a year.

Official Spotting Locations

There are no official spotting locations at DCA.

Other Spotting Locations

Gravely Point

Spotters are blessed with an amazing vantage point just north of the airport, called Gravely Point. The south end of the park is about a quarter mile from the threshold of runway 19. This offers great shots of both departures and arrivals. The arrivals come in very low, so I recommend ear plugs for those who have sensitive ears. The park has its own free parking and you will be largely undisturbed, as this people have been taking pictures from there for years. Many times you will be standing among several tourists and sports players just watching the airport activity.

  • sample photo: medium large (MD-82 taking off runway 1 with approaching plane behind)

Walking Paths

There is a path going from Gravely Point to the south side of the airport and beyond that hugs the airport boundary. The path goes 200ft behind runway 15 (regional traffic runway) at its closest point, but a jet-blast/prop-wash wall blocks any good shots. At another point, the path goes up onto a bridge, which offers a good view of runways 15 and 19. There is another bridge farther south towards the US Airways gates of the new terminal. You will need a good lens to get decent shots here, due to the distance. You can make your way from the path up to the top of the parking garages for a different angle. This offers a good shot of the terminal. At the south end of the airport, while still on the walking path, you can get a nice view of the GA terminal, though you will have to contend with cars in a parking lot.

Be aware that the walking path does have a good deal of other people using it, to include bikers, skaters and other pedestrians.

This is not so much of a problem until you get on the bridges, where there is limited space for the path.

Locations to Avoid

Walking Paths

As long as you stay in the Gravely Point Park area and blend in with other visitors of the park, you are unlikely to be approached by the police. However, if you move closer to the fence, especially when there are few people in the park (early morning) and especially along the walking path between the park and the terminal, you stand out and are more likely to be questioned, have your ID ready.

Regular Traffic

Most jet traffic uses the main runway 1-19. Landings to the south follow the Potomac river and make a 40° turn over the George Mason bridge. This unusual arrival procedure is similar to Kai-Tak's infamous IGS 13 approach but without heavy jets. Prohibited airspace north of the airport containing the White House and Capitol mandates this procedure. The Washington Monument also would be a hindrance to safe navigation. Commuter planes may often use the smaller runways 4-22 and 15-33. General Aviation and non scheduled charters were not allowed into Reagan National when the airport reopened after the 9/11 attacks. Beginning in October 2005 some general aviation aircraft have been allowed to return. They must have passenger manifests submitted 24 hours in advance. Pilots must be fingerprinted and undergo background checks. The plane, passengers and flight crew must be screened at a designated gateway airport and an armed marshall must be onboard. Due to the complex requirements general aviation traffic remains a rarity. Sports team charters on commercial airliners continue to use Dulles because of these restrictions.

Aircraft include:

  • Air Canada Express: CRJ-200, ERJ-175
  • Alaska: A321neo, B737-800, B737-900, ERJ-175
  • American: A319, A320, A321, B737-800, B757-200, ERJ-190
    • American Eagle: CRJ-200, CRJ-700, CRJ-900, ERJ-145, ERJ-170/175
  • Delta: A320, A321, B717-200, B737-800, B757-200
    • Delta Connection: CRJ-200, CRJ-700, CRJ-900, ERJ-170
  • Frontier: A319, A320, A320neo
  • jetBlue: A320, ERJ-190
  • Southwest: B737-700, B737-800, B737MAX
  • Sun Country: B737-700
  • United: A319, A320, B737-700, B737-800, B757-300
    • United Express: ERJ-145, ERJ-175

While very rare, Business Jets can be seen fly in/out of KDCA. Government/Military Helicopters fly rather frequently in the area as well.

Facilities and Transportation

Ronald Reagan Airport has direct rail service into the nation’s capital via the WMATA system, which has a Yellow/Blue Line Metro stop at the airport.

External Links

  • - Washington Baltimore Spotters Group - containing information about the area airports, spotting guides, traffic, news and photos