Why The FAA Moved Some Air Traffic By Just 800 Feet In Washington

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has moved some air traffic out of Washington National Airport (DCA) just under 800 feet southwest starting on January 30, 2020. Here’s what the FAA is doing.

DCA arrival
The FAA is changing up some air traffic procedure around Washington National Airport (DCA) Photo: Getty Images

The FAA is changing some traffic flows around DCA

In a news update, the FAA announced that it had altered some air traffic flows out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). This change, called HOLTB, the agency moved a waypoint 784 feet southwest. This moved north-flow departing aircraft away from the heavily protected DC-area airspace. But, aircraft will still remain over the Potomac River. Passengers should still expect some amazing views.

DCA Departing
The waypoint was moved just under 800 feet southwest to alter some north-flow departing aircraft routes. Photo: Getty Images

The FAA started this test on January 30th. Since then, it appears that the agency is pleased with the results and has now proposed to make this a permanent implementation for all north-flow departures out of DCA. The public is allowed to comment on the procedures through March 30th.

Due to the airport’s proximity to Capitol Hill and the White House, the airspace is heavily restricted. Pilots have to fly in a certain approach and departure over the Potomac River until they can fly around the restricted airspace.

Capitol Hill
The airport is not far from Capitol Hill. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

This airport is a very special one in the United States. It is the closest to Washington D.C. However, it is relatively small. The airport is not allowed to handle widebodies and has restrictions on the number of flights that can operate beyond a certain radius.

American 737
Only a few flights can operate outside a certain radius. Photo: Getty Images

Called the Perimeter Rule, this regulation limits the amount of nonstop services to Washington National Airport. Starting in 1966, this originally was limited to 650 statute miles. Then, in the 1980s, Congress expanded this 1,250 statute miles where it still remains.

DCA Perimeter Rule
DCA operates with a perimeter rule limiting nonstop flights to within 1250 miles from the airport. Rendering created at Great Circle Mapper

There are some exemptions, however. The US Department of Transportation allows nonstop flights to select cities. These include Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Juan, Seattle, and Portland.

DCA Perimeter Rule Extensions
Perimeter Rule exemptions out of DCA. Rendering created at Great Circle Mapper

The airport does, however, see lie-flat seats in business class on Delta’s transcontinental hop to Los Angeles with a premium Boeing 757.

Delta One cabin
The Delta One cabin on the 757. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying


While passengers might not notice this change, the FAA is making this shift so that aircraft stay away from heavily restricted areas. This limits unintended incursions from civil aircraft into restricted airspace.

The FAA is seeking public comment through March 30th on environmental concerns. However, the FAA is doing an environmental review for the implementation of this plan.

What do you make of the FAA’s proposed waypoint shift? Let us know in the comments!