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Washington DC’s airports flying high with record-breaking traffic

American inaugurated flights between Washington DCA and Wichita, in south-central Kansas, on Monday 8 January

In the bustling heart of the United States’ capital region lie two major aviation hubs – Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) – each with their own strategic significance, that are experiencing record traffic growth.

Managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the pair handled a combined total of 50,588,869 passengers in 2023, outstripping their pre-pandemic performance. This achievement was driven by strong demand at both airports, resulting in a new passenger record at Reagan National and an international passenger record at Dulles International.

DCA serves as a vital domestic gateway, offering flights to numerous destinations across the United States, while IAD stands as a major hub for both domestic and international travel, offering flights to destinations across six continents.

Washington DC airports passengers 2013-2023

DCA now boasts over 100 destinations

Located less than eight kilometres from the White House, Washington DCA is by far the closest airport to downtown DC. It has a crucial role to play in the greater Washington metro area, which – with six-plus million people – is the nation’s sixth largest.

According to Cirium schedules data, DCA has 16.4 million departing seats this year, making it the USA’s 24th-largest airport. While it has slightly less than Baltimore (ranking 22nd), it is bigger than Washington IAD (25th). Limited in hourly slots and with a well-known perimeter rule, DCA is not particularly large but is extremely popular.

It broke its all-time passenger traffic record in 2023 with 25.5 million travellers, representing a 6.2% increase on the previous record set in 2022, despite flight reductions to accommodate a runway rehabilitation project.

While eight carriers serve DCA (including regional partners), the airport is very much the domain of American. Inherited from US Airways, it has more than one in two available seats (53%), about three and a half times as much as number two, Southwest. American’s fast growth – and the shallow recoveries or declines of others – has pushed its dominance up from just under half in 2019.

In recent times, American has reoriented itself to carrying far more transit passengers at DCA, and the growth seems part of it. DCA is American’s seventh-busiest airport, one place behind Philadelphia but one place ahead of Los Angeles

About 74% of DCA’s seats are provided by American, Delta and United, versus 55% for the US domestic market generally. The various traffic restrictions in place at DCA help relegate others, especially ULCCs, to the less costly and more accessible Baltimore. The only ULCC serving DCA is Frontier, which has one route (Denver) and barely 1% of capacity.

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Washington DCA airlines 2024

With only six international destinations – Halifax (summer only), the recently restored Bermuda (summer only and back after five years), Montreal, Nassau, Ottawa, and Toronto YYZ – nearly all of DCA’s extensive network is domestic. The 100+ destinations are in 40 US states, with Florida, Texas, Illinois, New York, and Georgia the top five; almost half of the airport’s domestic capacity is to them.

IAD is the US’ fastest-growing international gateway

As the fastest-growing international gateway airport in the United States, Dulles International raised the bar in 2023 with 9.3 million international passengers – a new record that exceeded 2022’s international activity by 26.9%.

Combined with domestic activity, the airport logged 25.1 million passengers for the year. The upward trend can be credited to a strong resurgence in travel demand that led to eight new airlines launching nonstop flights to destinations around the globe over the past two years.

With new flights announced for 2024, this brings the airport’s total to 42 airlines and 139 destinations (80 domestic, 59 international).

Over a dozen new routes are being introduced at IAD in 2024, with some of the highlights including SWISS’ new service to Zurich, and Aeromexico’s operations to Mexico City. In addition, Lufthansa plans to upgrade its Munich route on 1 June to the Airbus A380, complementing British Airways and Emirates in deploying the world’s largest passenger aircraft on its IAD flights.

IAD will have an 11.7% increase in international flights this year, while seats will increase by 9.2%.

Top Washington IAD international routes 2024

The two Washington airports are situated within an overnight drive for more than 60% of the total US population. The National Capital Region itself is not just an administrative and cultural hub, it’s also a thriving centre for diverse businesses. With 68 companies boasting annual revenues exceeding $2 billion, including giants like Boeing, Amazon, and Capital One, the region plays a pivotal role in the nation’s economic landscape.

The exceptional growth, combined with the region’s affordability, affluence, and diverse offerings, see both Washington National and Washington Dulles as pivotal links between travellers, businesses, and the rich cultural heritage of the National Capital Region.

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