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Air Traffic Services Brief -- GA Access/Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)

Air Traffic Services Brief

GA Access/Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)

The Issue

Since September 11, 2001, general aviation aircraft operations have been prohibited at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA). On October 18, 2005, the TSA will begin allowing properly vetted " corporate operators" to begin flying in and out of DCA.

The Importance to Our Members

While the rule's applicability is very limited, it represents an important milestone because it is the first time since 9/11 that general aviation aircraft will be permitted to use the airport. The TSA has also indicated that it will consider expanding the access program one year after the initial implementation of the rule. According to estimates prepared by the DCA fixed-based operator, approximately 660 general aviation and charter flights occurred per week prior to September 11, 2001.


After the events of September 11, 2001, massive flight restrictions were implemented throughout the National Airspace System that effectively shut down all flight operations with the exception of military, law enforcement, and emergency-related aircraft operations. Even as flight restrictions were lifted throughout the country, DCA remained closed to GA aircraft. There is also a flight restricted zone and large air defense identification zone that surrounds the nation's capital.

Overview of Approval Process for Flight Into DCA

TSA has released the application process and guidance material for aircraft operators, fixed-base operators (FBOs), and armed security officers (ASOs) seeking or supporting access into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

Full details, including frequently asked questions and the forms needed to make application, are available below.

Who may apply?

At this time, TSA will permit the following operations access to DCA:

  • Operators under a partial security program approved by TSA under 49 CFR 1544.101(b), which operate aircraft with a passenger seating configuration of 31 or more but 60 or fewer seats.
  • Operators under a Private Charter Standard Security Plan (PCSSP) approved by the TSA under 49 CFR 1544.101(f), which operate aircraft with a passenger seating configuration of 61 or more seats or a maximum certificated takeoff weight of 45,500 kg (101,309 pounds) or more.
  • Operators in scheduled or charter service with a Twelve Five Standard Security Plan (TFSSP) approved by TSA under 49 CFR 1544.101(d), which operate aircraft with a maximum certificated takeoff weight of greater than 12,500 pounds.
  • Aircraft operated by corporations.

For the purposes of implementing this rule, TSA considers a corporate operation as any operation using a paid flight crew, having an operations manual, and requiring recurring flight-crew training. Aircraft that are owned by a corporation but operated by private persons will not be considered for the initial implementation phase of this program.

Aircraft Operator Application Process Overview

  1. Operators seeking access to DCA must complete and submit an initial application for operator approval provided by the TSA.
  2. Applicants must designate a security coordinator responsible for implementing the DCA Access Standard Security Program (DASSP) for their company. The security coordinator must undergo a fingerprint-based criminal record history check.
  3. After a physical inspection by the TSA to ensure requirements are met, the TSA will make a determination concerning the approval or disapproval of the prospective operator's request to participate in the GA at DCA program.
  4. If approved, the Program Office will provide the operator with a copy of the DCA Access Standard Security Program (DASSP).
  5. Crewmembers of all DCA flights must undergo a fingerprint-based criminal record history check and FAA records check.
  6. Upon successful completion of the DASSP, the operator will be an approved operator for flights into DCA.

Flight Approvals Overview

  1. Approved operators must apply for TSA authorization for each flight into DCA.
  2. To begin the process, operators must request a slot reservation from the FAA via the FAA Web site Note: The FAA-approved slot time into DCA is tentative until TSA issues a flight authorization.
  3. Once the operator has a tentative slot time, the operator may apply for a flight authorization to fly to and from DCA via an approved gateway FBO.
  4. The flight authorization application containing crew, passenger, and armed security officer (ASO) information will be evaluated by the Office of Special Operations at TSA and a decision made within 24 hours. TSA will conduct a name-based security threat assessment for each passenger and crewmember.
  5. Once a flight authorization is issued to the operator, TSA will notify the FAA to officially assign the flight slot to the operator.
  6. The approved operator in possession of a valid flight authorization will then contact the specific gateway FBO and Signature Aviation at DCA to notify them of the date and time of their anticipated arrival at the gateway FBO and DCA, respectively. The FBO will coordinate with the local federal security director (FSD) to arrange for screening personnel to conduct inspection of the aircraft, crewmembers, passengers, accessible property, and checked property.
  7. The operator should review the prohibited items list found at TSA's Web site.
  8. After TSA has informed the PIC that the aircraft and personnel have successfully completed screening, the aircraft operator is required to notify the National Capital Region Coordination Center following screening and prior to departure from the gateway inbound to DCA and from DCA outbound.
  9. TSA screening fees will be collected by Signature Aviation at DCA. Fees include $148 per leg ($296 round trip) for screening plus a $15 per person charge for background checks.
  10. Operators should coordinate with Signature FBO at DCA to arrange for departure screening in sufficient time to meet their departure slot.

AOPA's Position

Any discussion involving the opening of Washington, D.C.'s National Airport to general aviation should also include fully reopening the three other local general aviation airports in the D.C. area. An important step for many AOPA members is rescinding the air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

AOPA continues to press for a more workable process for transient pilots to get approval to use the other "DC-3" airports, which provide convenient access to the nation's capital.

Updated Tuesday, August 23, 2005 9:16:40 AM