Travellers flying into Washington D.C.’s Reagan National Airport may notice that the approach is much different than that of other airports around the country. The strict noise restrictions and critical airspace boundaries around the domestic airport are some of the most unique in the world. Pilots are required to use the “River Visual” approach when runway 19, the longest and most commonly active, is being used. The approach follows the path of the Potomac River and requires a ceiling of 3500 feet and 3 miles visibility. Most precision approaches require a ceiling of just a couple hundred feet and a visibility of half a mile. Pilots must rely on lights on top of the bridges nearby for navigation. The approach ensures that arriving aircraft won’t fly too close to places like the National “Mall” or the Pentagon, which are vital to our nations security.
Just seconds before touching down, airplanes have to turn almost 50 degrees in order to be lined up with the runway. This occurs at just a few hundred feet above the ground. Most commercial airline pilots will agree that this approach is one of the hardest in the world. There is virtually no “final” approach and the runway is only 6000 feet long.