Suggestions/Advice on flying to Washington, DC

Seeking guidance on flying into Washington, DC, area. Am considering flying to attend a meeting at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, VA. Need to arrive Sunday afternoon. Which airports? Any procedural concerns? Also likely to come from or go to Lynchburg, VA on the way.


Hi Rick,

There are a number of us here from the DC area, and I’m sure we’d all be happy to help. I’ll try to give a few pointers here; feel free to contact me at, or post here with any extra questions.

  • TFRs: Note that the DC TFR is still active; that means roughly no flight within 15 miles of downtown DC. Check out this page from AOPA for a map. And of course, always check the NOTAMs. In addition, the P-40 prohibited area around Camp David is expanded in size; currently 5nm radius instead of the charted 3 nm. Again, check NOTAMs.

  • The above TFR means that the following airports are closed to transient GA pilots: National (DCA), College Park (CGS), Hyde (W32), and Potomac (VKX).

  • So… what airports are still open? Dulles (IAD) is open but busy and expensive. Manassas (HEF) and Leesburg (JYO), Virginia might be good choices, or Gaithersburg, MD (GAI).

  • Coming from Lynchburg, you’ll end up talking with Dulles approach going to any of the above airports, though you’ll be switched to Baltimore if you go to GAI. Although sometimes you get lucky, there’s at least a chance you’ll be sent around the west side of IAD airspace if you head to JYO or GAI.

  • Of the above airports, HEF has an ILS, JYO has a LOC, and GAI has only a VOR or RNAV approach, if that matters to you.

  • It’s not that easy to get to Arlington from those airports. From HEF, the Virginia Railway Express runs trains to DC but only on a set schedule (see their website). From GAI you could take a taxi for maybe 3 miles to a DC Metro/Subway station to get to Arlington. From JYO I think you’ll have to rent a car (which might be better from the other airports, too, depending on your time and exactly where the NSF is).

  • We live less than 2 minute drive from GAI and would be happy to help any way we can - maybe we could even meet for dinner when you’re up here if you have the time.


  • This also means that DCA, College Park (CGS),

Just a few additions to Steve’s comments. Recommend against Dulles particularly late afternoon or early evening unless you just feel like doing it. HEF, JYO and GAI are all under the Dulles Class B, so watch your altitudes if you are VFR, particularly coming into JYO from the west or South.

I have been based at both Manassas (HEF) and Leesburg (JYO). Mannassas has a tower and two parallel runways. There are two FBOs Falconair and Dulles Aviation. Dulles Aviation (not to be confused with the airport), a Cirrus Service Center on the west side of the airport. I have never used Falconair but have heard that they are fine. The folks at Dulles Aviation are friendly and handle everything from C150s to business jets. Plenty of tiedowns available. There phone number is 703-361-2171. Rental cars are available, just call ahead. Non-rush hour driving time from Manassas to Arlington should be about 45-50 minutes, all on highways.

Leesburg is non-towered. There is a morning rush of bisjet departures and a fair amount of training trafic in the pattern. Leesburg is undergoing major renovation and tie down space could be limited. Piedmont Hawthorn is the FBO. They are good but not much Cirrus experience. From Leesburg driving is slightly less than from Manassas, about 40 minutes all on highways. Public transport in northern Virginia is not good, so car rental is probably best.

For any of these airports, it is a lot easier the first time if you are on an IFR plan or pick up flight following. Hope this helps.

Same question, this time flying into Reston, VA? I’m flying in from Toronto, so I need to stop at an airport of Entry, even if I then immediately depart again, which I think means Dulles.

I have flown in and out of Toronto 3 times. I live in the DC area. I have always cleared customs in Buffalo after coming over the lake as they are used to dealing with GA pilots. After that, proceed to Manassas or Lessburg as they are the closest to Reston. Dulles has high handling fees and not wirth the landing there.

See my note on this subject dated May 15. You might want to find an airport of entry close to the Canada/US border and then fly into Manassas or Leesburg. Nonrush hour driving time to Reston is 35-40 minutes from Manassas and about 30 minutes from Leesburg.


I fly out of Toronto all the time…depends where you’re going. If you’re traveling a long way and there isn’t a port of entry before you’ll need a pit stop, I recommend Buffalo, NY (BUF) It’s fast, easy and cheap!. Just call 1 hour a head during the week to make sure there will be a customs officer there. My last trip was from CTYZ to EWR, I simply went straight through and used Newark as the point of entry.


Thanks everyone. I’m a bit torn. Since this is business, I’m transporting coworkers, and the place we need to be is only 5mi from Dulles, I’m somewhat torn about arriving someplace that’s 25+ miles away from our ultimate destination.

It looks like my two options are:

Toronto -> Dulles -> 5mi ride to meeting (shuttle)
Toronto -> Buffalo (customs) -> Leesburg -> 25mi cab ride

I don’t mind spending a few extra bucks (within reason) if I can optimize for reducing hassle, so let me ask the question again, in terms of hassle reduction as opposed to saving every last penny.

a) is custom’s at IAD efficient? i.e. will it be less of a hassle to make an extra stop at BUF, deal with customs, and then take off again, or would I be better off just flying direct to IAD and dealing with customs once I land there?

b) How efficient is it to land at IAD? If I’m going to get vectored for 60 minutes or stuck on my ass behind a row of 30 jets when it comes time to leave, then perhaps Leesburg + a long cab ride is more efficient. I don’t know. Some big airports run GA off of separate runways (e.g. SJC, OAK)?

How bad is IAD for a guy who’s just flying in, spending a couple nights parked there, and then departing?

Sorry, but you may not have a choice of avoiding a landing at Buffalo.

ATC and US Customs required me to consider “overflight” when I filed my international flight plan back from the Bahamas. Because I gave them a routing that was minimal time-over-water, they wanted me to land at Palm Beach as the closest port of entry, then continue to Ft Pierce – a huge inconvenience. So we negotiated a more direct, hence longer time-over-water route to Fort Pierce. The explanation was that if I was overflying a port of entry, then I needed an “overflight permit” that might take several weeks to arrange.

By going from Toronto to Washington, you will have the same overflight situation.

Given the changes in Canadian and US Customs procedures after 9/11 – suspending CANPASS and GATE programs – I recommend that you telephone US Customs in Toronto and seek advice on what procedures will work for them. My San Diego office of US Customs was very clear that different districts have different procedures – consider the Mexico, Carribean and Canadian differences, eh?


p.s. Please post your results because I’m planning to fly across the Ontario-US border for several stops in July – Detroit to Brantford to Ithaca, New York to Kingston to Maine and I really want to make that trip as easy as possible. Local knowledge will be helpful! Good luck!

p.p.s. Just realized that if you are departing Toronto, then you might clear US Customs at Pearson International and avoid the whole overflight problem! Check it out, eh?

Try calling Signature at Dulles (703) 661-0031. I used to make a lot of business trips on corporate jets out of a corporate hangar right next to Signature. When returning from international trips, we would clear Immigration and Customs at the Signature ramp. They can tell you what it will cost. Piedmont Hawthorne, (703) 661-0150, might be an alternative FBO, but I have no experience with them at Dulles. Note that you will have to call ahead to be met by Immigration and Customs and every time I did this, everyone had to stay in the plane until they arrived. Once you have cleared, taxis are readily available and you should be able to get any place in Reston in 10-15 minutes. Hope this helps.

I spoke to the AOPA about this earlier this week. There is no ADIZ between the US and Canada, so all that is needed is a VFR flight plan (NOT* DVFR) and clearing Customs/INS as an airport of entry (any airport of entry). It turns out the regulations are different depending upon whether you cross an ADIZ or not and whether or not you are entering the US from 30deg N lattitude or lower. The whole mass of regulations were confusing as hell to me, and they were confusing to the customs folks I called in San Jose and Dulles, so I called up the experts at AOPA and asked them.

At this time, CANPASS is operational again, however an agent will meet you at the plane no matter what, so there’s no point in going through the paperwork. GATE remains suspended at this time.