At Reagan National, a key strategy for limiting aircraft noise exposure over the broader region is to maximize aircraft movements over water and minimize aircraft movements over more densely populated communities. The FAA issues arrival and departure procedures, that comply with the region's prohibited airspace restrictions, to generally position aircraft over the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, when air traffic and weather conditions permit.  Some communites adjacent to the river corridors will still experience aircraft noise.

The air traffic direction, North Flow or South Flow, is primarily based on airfield and enroute wind and weather conditions.  As a safety factor, aircraft arrive and depart into the wind to maximize aerodynamic lift.


Prohibited Airspace (P-56A and P-56B):  The Washington, D.C. airspace is unique within the FAA's National Airspace System due to prohibited airspace located 1.5 miles north of Reagan National.  The present day prohibited airspace evolved from Presidential Executive Orders dating back to the 1930's.  By the mid-1960's, it was codified into Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 73 and designated as prohibited airspace P-56.

Within P-56 airspace, operation of commercial and private aircraft near the U.S. National Mall, White House and Naval Observatory is prohibited.  The FAA and U.S. Secret Service enforce the P-56 airspace and investigate all P-56 airspace violations.  The federal government can pursue legal action against a pilot found to be in violation of the regulation.  P-56 airpsace violation penalties may include the revocation of the pilot's license and jail.

Currently, P-56 prohibited airspace consists of two sub-areas:  A and B. 

  • P-56A:  Prohibited airspace that consists of the U.S. National Mall airspace between a point west of the Lincoln Memorial to an area east of the U.S. Capitol Building, and between K Street (north side) and a combination of Independence Avenue and Southwest Freeway (south side).  P-56A prohibited airspace includes the White House, home of the U.S. President.
  • P-56B:  Prohibited airspace that consists of the airspace within a 0.5 mile radius of the U.S. Naval Observatory, home of the U.S. Vice President.


Typical North Flow Operations (Figure 1):

north flow reagan
Click to see a regional depiction of Reagan National operations in North Flow (PDF file)

North Flow Departures:

  • North/Northwest:  Aircraft departing to the north/northwest are required to initiate an immediate left turn to avoid flying through P-56 prohibited airspace. Aircraft continue on a northwest heading for about 10 miles, which approximates the position of the Potomac River, toward the American Legion Bridge before being vectored to their destination.  The two standard FAA departure procedures assigned to aircraft departing to the north/northwest are:
  1. National Five*
  2. Lazir Five (RNAV)*
  • North/Northeast:  Aircraft departing to the north/northeast are required to initiate an immediate right turn to avoid flying through P-56 prohibited airspace.  Aircraft continue on a northeast heading for about 5 miles, which approximates the position of the Anacostia River, before being vectored to their destination.

North Flow Arrivals:  Aircraft arriving from the south typically join the Potomac River between 5-10 miles south of the airport.  Aircraft continue north until final approach to Runway 01 or 33.


Typical South Flow Operations (Figure 2):

south flow reagan
Click to see a regional depiction of Reagan National operations in South Flow (PDF file)


South Flow Departures: Aircraft departing to the south follow the Potomac River for about 5 miles toward the Woodrow Wilson Bridge before being vectored to their destination.

South Flow Arrivals:  Aircraft approach the airport from the northwest and typically join the Potomac River near the American Legion Bridge.  Aircraft continue on a southeast heading for about 10 miles, approximating the Potomac River and avoiding P-56 prohibited airspace, until final approach to Runway 15 or 19.  The three standard FAA approach procedures assigned to aircraft arriving from the northwest are:

  1. River Visual RWY 19    (good visibility and weather conditions)*
  2. LDA RWY 19                (poor visibility and weather conditions)*
  3. RNAV (RNP) RWY 19   (requires special aircraft equipment and pilot training)*


*  FAA Procedures for Reagan National (DCA):

procedures for reagan


Editorial Section(s)