DCA Slot (High Density) Rule:

The High Density Rule (or "Slot" rule) is a federal regulation established in 1969 (14 CFR §93.123) to manage congestion at five high density airports: Reagan National, JFK, LaGuardia, Newark and O'Hare. A slot is an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) reservation for an arrival or a departure.  A "slot pair" is equivalent to a round trip flight.

Unless otherwise authorized by FAA Air Traffic Control, Reagan National is limited to 60 IFR slots/operations (arrivals and departures) per hour for specified aircraft classes between 6 a.m. and midnight (12 a.m.):

  • 37  Air Carriers
  • 11  Commuter/Regional Carriers
  • 12  General Aviation (non-airline aircraft)

Congress must propose and approve federal legislation to change the number of flights (slots) at a designated high density airport.  Over the strong opposition of the Airports Authority, Congress has added the following slot exemptions per day at Reagan National.  cherry_landing_1_2014

  • 2000:  24 slot exemptions
    • 12 beyond the perimeter
    • 12 inside the perimeter
  • 2003:  22 slot exemptions
    • 12 beyond the perimeter
    • 10 inside the perimeter
  • 2012:    8 slot exemptions
    • 8 beyond the perimeter


DCA Perimeter Rule:

The Perimeter Rule is a federal regulation established in 1966 when jet aircraft began operating at Reagan National.  The initial Perimeter Rule limited non-stop service to/from Reagan National to 650 statute miles, with some exceptions for previously existing service.  By the mid-1980s, Congress had expanded Reagan National non-stop service to 1,250 statute miles (49 U.S. Code § 49109).  Ultimately, Reagan National serves primarily as a "short-haul" airport while Washington Dulles International Airport serves as the region's "long-haul" growth airport.

Congress must propose and approve federal legislation to allow the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue "beyond-perimeter" exemptions which allows an airline to operate non-stop service to cities outside the perimeter.  As a result of recent federal exemptions, non-stop service is now offered between Reagan National and the following cities:  Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Juan, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

In November 2020, the GAO released report 21-176 on the DCA perimeter rule.

Learn more about efforts to protect the DCA perimeter rule.

In May 2023, the FAA produced a memo predicting an increase in delays at DCA of more than 25% if an additional 20 daily round-trip flights were flown.

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