The Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is located in Arlington County, Virginia. Currently, there are 150,000 square feet of terminal space in Terminal A with 9 airline gates. Nonstop service to 70 destinations operated by many airlines from air Canada to US Airways, the Ronald Reagan airports served 17.8 million of passengers in 2005.
Between 1926 and 1938, Congress produced reams of debate transcripts and 37 committee reports on the need for a new airport, but no action was taken. In the Fall of 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced at a press conference that he was "tired of waiting for Congress" to select a site for the new airport, and said that it would be built on mudflats on a bend of the Potomac River at Gravelly Point, 4 ½ miles south of Washington, D.C. Two months later, on November 21, 1938, the first ceremonial shovelful of dirt was moved to signal the start of construction.
The Airport was originally designed with four runways: the main north-south runway at 6,855 feet; a northwest-southeast runway at 5,210 feet; a northeast-southwest runway at 4,892 feet; and an east-west runway at 4,100 feet. On September 28, 1940, two years to the day of the site selection, President Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the terminal building at the dedication ceremony. National Airport opened for business on June 16, 1941. President Roosevelt attended a ceremony and observed the first official landing. The airlines drew straws to determine who could land at National Airport first, and American Airlines won the honor.
National Airport became a success, but a controversy over legal jurisdiction began to brew. Was the airport located in Virginia or the District of Columbia? The District "owned" the Potomac River to Virginia, claiming the boundary had been set in 1846 at the high water mark along the shoreline. But since the airport was built on a fill, a new eastern shoreline was created. The question arose as to whether the District’s authority ended at the new shore or the original one. The problem went unresolved until 1945 when Congress approved a bill that fixed the airport boundary at the mean high water mark, regardless of changes, which placed the airport in Virginia. However, the Congress established exclusive federal jurisdiction over National Airport.
The first major expansion was completed in November 1950 when a 297-foot extension to the south end of the main terminal added 25,110 square feet of space. Five years later, in 1955, the 587 by 17 foot “south finger” was added increasing the square footage by 9,979 square feet, and also providing badly needed aircraft gates and loading positions. Over the years, the runways have changed only slightly in length, except for the east-west runway which was closed in 1956, and used as a taxiway and for aircraft parking. Today, the airfield contains three runways. Runway 1/19, the main north-south runway, is 6,869 feet. In the 1980’s, overruns were added to each end of this runway. The other two runways are Runway 15/33 at 5,204 feet, and Runway 4/22 at 4,911 feet.
On July 27, 1997, National Airport was transformed by the official opening of the new Terminal which offers modern, efficient facilities that include direct connections to Metrorail and new parking garages via enclosed pedestrian bridges. The three-level, one million square foot terminal houses 35 aircraft gates and “National Hall”, a main street for shops and eateries on the concourse level. In the future, Historic Terminal A will undergo a renovation project to restore the terminal to its 1941 design and architecture. The Historic Terminal will continue to serve passengers and provide airline gates, ticket counters, and concessions – all within the framework of what the airport originally looked like.
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