You may have heard the news this morning - "private planes return to Reagan National Airport...." True as far as it goes, but the whole truth is that the vast majority of general aviation aircraft and pilots still can't fly into DCA. Meanwhile, AOPA continues to push to make it easier for pilots to use the three other airports, the "DC-3," that are reasonably convenient to the nation's capital.
The privilege of landing at DCA is still reserved for the heavy iron and the deep pockets. That's because to fly into DCA, you must be a "corporate operator," meaning a paid flight crew with an operations manual and recurrent flight-crew training.
It also means an on-board security officer, security screening at one of 12 gateway airports, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approval - at least 24 hours in advance - for every flight, crew, and passenger.
It's not cheap; TSA requires operators to pay for all of the security screening and background checks, as well as the on-board security officer required when carrying passengers.
TSA will reconsider the rules to allow smaller GA aircraft into DCA in a year.
For the rest of us, the current Washington options are the DC-3 airports - Potomac Airfield (VKX), Washington Executive/Hyde Field (W32), and College Park Airport (CGS). College Park even has the advantage of being within walking distance of a Washington Metro (subway) stop.
The disadvantage of all three, however, is that they are within the Washington, D.C., Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), and you need to have been issued a personal identification number (PIN) by TSA to land there.
Currently, you must go to the Baltimore FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) for a records check and DCA airport to be fingerprinted for a criminal records check before TSA will allow you to receive a PIN and fly into the DC-3 airports.
AOPA is continuing to work with the TSA to reduce that burden, advocating that any FSDO should be able to do the records check and any approved federal or state facility should be able to take your fingerprints. That would save you the special ground trips to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. See AOPA's issue brief.
October 18, 2005