The world is full of such a variety of airports and each has its own appeal to spotters. I’ve put together this list of airports which every spotter should try to visit at some time to help enrich their aviation interests and make the most of their hobby.
1. Everett Paine Field
Home of Boeing’s widebodie production lines and the world’s largest building – currently responsible for producing 747s, 777s, 787s and the occasional 767. Once aircraft have been completed they are taken to the paint assembly building, and then placed outside whilst final preparations are made.
Aircraft undertake testing regularly once complete, so you’ll always see something of interest using the airport’s single main runway.
Aircraft that have been completed are sometimes placed in storage at the airport – seen recently with some early 787s and 747-8s. You may also be lucky to see the first Boeing 727 aircraft, which is preserved at the airport, along with a De Havilland Comet 4 and some other historic aircraft.
It’s not the busiest, and some might be a little sensitive about the way North Korea is run, but purely from an enthusiast’s point of view this is a very interesting place. Air Koryo, the national carrier, still flies classic Russian types such as the Tu-134, Tu-154, Tu-204, IL-62 and IL-18.
Pyongyang airport recently opened its brand new terminal, which looks much more akin to those found in the West. But to be able to experience the aircraft here you’ll need to take part in an organised tour, such as those on offer with Juche Travel Service.
3. London City
The British capital is served by many airports, but London City is by far one of the world’s more unusual. Built on a former dock at the heart of the city, it makes for a challenging and restricted environment to operate large airliners in. Yet every day aircraft arrive from across Europe, and even New York. Its location among the skyscrapers of London’s financial district means the short runway requires a steep approach angle and only certified aircraft are permitted to operate there.
It’s easy to watch aircraft come and go here from the docks opposite the runway, or under the approach paths at either end.
Here’s a post about London City Behind The Scenes.
4. Los Angeles International
With California’s amazing climate, endless sunshine, and an incredible mix of aircraft, LAX should be on anyone’s list of must-visit airports.
Los Angeles has four runways and nine passenger terminals. Each major US airline has a decent presence here, as well as large airliners from across the globe, and leisure airlines from Mexico, Hawaii and the Caribbean. On the south side of the airport, cargo airliners and biz jets complete the lineup.
Head to Imperial Hill or the In ‘n’ Out Burger restaurant for the best views. Here’s a post about spotting at Los Angeles.
5. Frankfurt Main
Germany’s busiest airport, and one of the main gateways to Europe. Like LAX, its mix is mouthwatering to the enthusiast, comprising all main European carriers, low-cost airlines, leisure carriers, cargo, regional, and long-haul traffic.
Spotting is not as good here as in days gone by, but the airport still provides two official locations – at Terminal 2 and alongside runway 18 – and there are some other good spots to watch aircraft.
6. Toulouse Blagnac
Europe’s busiest aircraft manufacturing airport. Most Airbus A319, A320, A330, A340 and A380 aircraft are constructed here, as well as ATR turboprops. Regular airline traffic isn’t much to write home about, but who cares when you’ve got airliners destined for all corners of the globe undergoing completion and flight testing in the southern France sun?
There are various places to watch aircraft around the airport perimeter, and an official viewing deck at the terminal. Plus, you can arrange tours of the Airbus plant, and visit historic aircraft at the on-site museum.
7. FunchalWhen space is limited, sometimes the only option is to build your airport runway on stilts. That’s exactly what heppend at Funchal, on the Portuguese island of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean. When demand from leisure airlines grew, the runway was extended out from the cliff-side that it occupies to allow larger aircraft to be handled. The position of this airport also means aircraft take an interesting approach path before landing, often in crosswind conditions.
Spotters can position themselves on the hillside above the runway for some excellent photographs and videos.
8. Phoenix Deer Valley
Unlike other airports on this list, Deer Valley isn’t on the route map of lots of scheduled airlines or a place to see the latest Dreamliners and Airbus A380s. Yet it is one of the busiest airports in the world. In particular, it is actually the busiest airport in the world for biz jet movements, according to recent statistics.
So if you’re looking for something different, or like to log and photograph Citations, Global Expresses and Gulfstreams, this is the place to head to.
The Arizona airport has two runways and is in the north east of the city. You can watch movements from the official observation deck on top of the terminal building, which even pipes in ATC broadcasts.
Probably the most interesting of South America’s main airports. Bogota, in Colombia, is a hub for Aviana, LAN Colombia, Copa Airlines and VivaColombia. This is great in itself, but the airport is also one of the last bastions for some older jets, like Boeing 727s of AeroSucre and Lineas Aereas Suramericanas, and F-28s and DC-3s of the Colombian Government.
The airport also has a nice collection of preserved aircraft on the military side of the airport.
Spotting is possible inside the terminal, or from the end of the runways if you have a car.
10. Istanbul Ataturk Europe’s latest up-and-coming airport thanks mainly to the explosive growth of Turkish Airlines, which is trying to emulate what Middle East carriers are doing in connecting east and west. As such, this main base for the airline (it also operates from nearby Sabiha Gokcen Airport) sees a constant stream of the carrier’s red tails coming and going. Traffic comprises a good mix of European and long-haul flights, with the vast majority naturally made up of Turkish Airlines and AtlasJet. The draw for enthusiasts is the growing fleet of the national airline, and the opportunity for photography in the warm climate. A good mix of cargo carriers can also be seen. There are a number of places to spot from round the perimeter, as well as the excellent FlyInn shopping mall which is great for viewing and photographing aircraft from the cafe balcony. There is also a nice aviation museum on the southern boundary.
World Airports Spotting Guide
World Airports Spotting Guides covers over 300 of the world’s airports, including details on what you can see there, and where to spot from. Many of the guides also include the best spotting hotels and aviation museum attractions.