The airport of the Capitol of the USA, Ronald Reagan, almost 24 Mio. passengers in 2017 and is located next to the Pontomac river. As the name implies, DCA is a national airport only, with no TSA passport control at all. Some flights to/from Canada takes place but these passengers are already checked within the Canadian departure airports.
American Eagle has a small regional hub in Washington, serving several smaller countries along the east coast. The other major carriers are American, Delta, Southwest and JetBlue offering a wide variety of destinations too.
Due to noise restrictions, planes are asked to operate the “River Visual” approach if RWY 19 is in use, which is heading above the Pontomac river. This one is very interesting from a passengers sight (if you are sitting on the left) as you have a great view over the city of Washington with the White House and the Capitol for example.
Written by Julian Mittnacht, Ruoyang Yan, Mogami Kariya and Stefan Geisenberger / All spots checked May 2018
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|2.094 m (7.169 ft)||1.497 (4.911 ft)||1.586 (5.204 ft)|
|Terminals||Terminal A||Terminal B||Terminal C|
|Air Canada Express, Frontier, Southwest||UA, DL, DL Shuttle, AA, AA Shuttle, JetBlue and Alaska||American Airlines only|
|Spotting Information||Ladder||Not required|
|Car||Not required. You can walk to most spots from the terminal and there is a good public transport too.|
|Restrooms||inside the terminal and spot #3|
|Drinks/Food||inside the terminal|
|Runway Usage||01/19||main runway used in both directions|
|04/22||not known to be in use|
|15/33||just a few regional jets use it for arrival|
|Spot #1 – Terminal B/C – Apron, 15&19 arrivals|
|WHERE||Get out of the terminals at the departure level. Walk northwards or southwards until you will reach a small plaza at both ends of the terminals with benches and trees.|
|WHAT||At the northern plaza you can see some of the ramp action of terminal C (AA Eagle) and the runway 19 & 15 movements.|
From the southern point you can see terminal B ramp, this includes airlines for Alaska and United and is the perfect place for spotting when the aircraft are landing from the south and taking off to the north from runway 01. Terminal roof and parked aircraft interrupt the sight of the ramp. The runway is clear.
|TIME||Starting from noon till sunset to be a good spot. Also night photography is possible.|
|MISC.||Heat haze is an issue at both locations if you photograph the runway!|
Food, drinks, restrooms can be found inside the terminal and you can enjoy your meal at the spotting location.
|FOCAL LENGTH||50-500 mm|
|Spot 2 – Gravelly Point Park – 19&15 arrivals|
|WHERE||The most famous spot in Washington and also loved by its citizen. Use the lower arrival level and exit the terminal there. Follow the footpath that is marked on the map northwards, along the perimeter. After 15 minutes you will see the park to your right|
By car accessible from the George Washington Memorial Hwy. You have to come from the airport direction to enter the parking lot.
|WHAT||The park is directly under the approch of RWY19 and you can watch the famous ‘River approch’. In the morning find a place on the east side (not the best angle) and then switch over when the light has turned.|
|TIME||For runway 19 arrivals from afternoon till sunset. Runway 15 arrivals until noon without backlit.|
|MISC.||Its a place to relax! Benches, trees and water. Buy your stuff in the terminals before you get there.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||50-150 mm|
|Spot #3 – Daingerfield Island – 01 Arrivals|
|WHERE||There is a Marina on Daingerfield Island, a few miles southward of the airport. Its accessible from the George Washington Memorial Hwy. Park there and find a position next to the water on the grass. Don´t block the boat ramp. Furthermore you can take a place on the outdoor terrace of the nearby restaurant called “Triple Craft” and watching the traffic whilst enjoying some drinks and burgers. This is how the terracce looks like.|
There is also a nice trail from the terminal (metro station) to the photo position. It will take you approximate 30 minutes.
|WHAT||Arrivals on RWY01 only.|
|TIME||Starting at noon to be a good spot|
|MISC.||A restaurant, restrooms and vending machines directly at the marina. The location is a nice and relaxing place to spot from.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||70-200 mm|
|Spot #4 – Long Bridge Park – 01 departure & 19 Arrival|
|WHERE||The Long Birdge Park located near the end of runway 01, if you are driving, use US-1 and follow the direction on Google Map, there is a big football field next to the park and you can park your car in the public parking lot there. This location is also accessible by bus NO.92, you may get off at “Long Bridge Drive” station and its also accessable from the terminals. You may want to move to the walkway around the river for a better angle.|
|WHAT||This is a nice location for spotting departures on 01 in the afternoon. The traffic will slightly turn left shortly after taking off so it’s possible to get a unique angle of climbing. Arrival on 19 can also be spotted here for southern operations.|
|TIME||From noon to sunset all year round.|
|MISC.||Take food and drinks you need as there is no shop nearby, restroom can be found inside the football field.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||For 01 departures, 400mm to get a full frame of B757 / B737, 500mm or longer is needed for regional aircraft and business jets. Shorter focal length can be used for 19 arrivals. However I have never been there during southern operation.|