10 Airports You Need to Visit

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport Spotting Guide, Asia, Colombia, Eastern Europe, France, Frankfurt, Germany, North America, North Korea, Portugal, South America, Turkey, UK, USA, Western Europe | Posted on 05-07-2015


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

Paine Field Spotting

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.

Head to the Future of Flight centre for a grandstand view over the airport. Here’s a post about spotting at Paine Field.


2. Pyongyang

Pyongyang Line-Up

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

London City Airport Morning Ramp

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

Frankfurt Terminal 2 Visitors Terrace

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

A350 © Airbus S.A.S 2013 Photo by H. Goussé

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. Funchal

By Thomas Klein (Own work (own photography)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Thomas Klein (Own work (own photography)) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

When 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

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.


9. Bogota


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

Istanbul Spotting

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 Guides

World Airports Spotting Guide

My upcoming book, 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. Find out more and pre-order the book here: http://www.destinworld.co.uk/products/world-airport-spotting-guides/

Air Koryo TU-134/154 days numbered

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airline News, Asia, North Korea | Posted on 19-08-2013


Air Koryo An148 (c) Mark WilliamsAir Koryo is reportedly planning to replace its ageing Tupolev TU-134 and TU-154 airliners with more modern Antonov An-148-100 and An-158 aircraft.

It is in the process of ordering two An-148s and a single An-158 to replace the older aircraft, meaning the days of flying on these historic types may soon be at an end.

Having said that, people who have been on recent aviation tours to the country have reported that the airline’s IL-18 will remain active for many years to come, and the IL-62s will also likely remain active as the type is in use as a government transport.


For details of rare and historic aircraft still in passenger service, see our ebook Last Chance to Fly



Journey to the classic aircraft haven of North Korea

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Asia, China, North Korea, Spotting Trip Reports | Posted on 11-06-2013


P-561 Tu154Mark Williams recently joined Juche Travel Services on one of their enthusiasts’ tours to North Korea to explore and fly on the country’s classic Russian aircraft. Here for you to enjoy is his account and pictures of the trip.


With the announcement by China that all the old classics are now banned on scheduled services to the country, it meant that the request to lay on an IL-62 for the Beijing to Pyongyang flight (which was granted last year) was denied, with services to Beijing now being purely in the hands of the 2 Tu-204’s and the AN148. Resultantly, it was Tu-204 P-633 that whisked a hugely excited group into the unknown.


The majority of the active (and not so active) Air Koryo fleet can be found on the single large ramp, and, by the end of the week, you will know exactly where every aircraft will be positioned. To step out onto the ramp on landing to be surrounded by the majority of what for me is by far the most interesting fleet on Earth was indescribable. A dream fulfilled, and it was going to take some time for it all to sink in. All 3 IL-76’s (P-912, P-913 and P-914) were present, as were IL-18 P-835, AN148 P-671, TU-134 P-814, TU-154’s P-552 and P-561, IL-62’s P-881 and P-885, AN24’s P-532, P-533 and P-537 along with the little present from Stalin in the shape of IL14 535.

Pyongyang Line-Up

I looked down at my pad on the coach from the airport to the hotel and could hardly believe a full column of P- registrations dominated the page. Priceless. So what of the remaining aircraft that weren’t on the ramp when we landed? Listen up those taking one of the future tours. When you taxi in from the runway to the terminal, on your right hand side you will see 2 stored aircraft. These are the other IL18 P-836 and TU154 P-551. Both are stored but fully intact. I am a reg reader, so have to read it off for myself in order to claim it and was concerned that these two may be difficult. The TU154 is at the front and easily readable, with the IL18 behind. However, the reg can be read off from the aircraft during taxi in, and also when you do the tour of the IL14 which is parked at the far end of the ramp. This left 5 other aircraft I wanted to see – P-553, a TU154, P-813, the other TU134, P-632, the other TU204 and the 2 government IL62’s, P618 and P-882.

P-671 An148

Firstly, forget the 2 government IL62’s – they are kept in a hangar behind some trees a distance from the ramp and you will get nowhere near. There is of course a chance that you are extremely lucky and see them active, but don’t expect to catch sight of either beast.

P-814 Tu134

Luck was on our side with regards TU134 P-813. Again on your right hand side as you taxi in, before you get to the stored IL18 and TU154, you will see a single taxi way that heads up between a row of trees. The hangar mentioned above is behind these trees, but through the gap in the trees, P-813 was handily parked right in the middle. I don’t know if this was just luck or it can normally be seen there, but if this is where it is normally parked (it may just have been in the hangar area for attention) you will only see it on taxi in and out of the airport – so stay alert and hopefully luck will also be on your side.


I enquired to an Air Koryo representative about the whereabouts of TU154 P-553, and he said that contrary to recent reports, the aircraft still exists (but in what state I do not know) and has been moved to a nearby aviation training centre and is no longer part of the Air Koryo fleet. He confirmed that they still had just 2 active TU154’s at their disposal (P-561 and P-552).

P-912 Il76

Along with P-633, TU204 P-632 operates the bulk of the Air Koryo scheduled services, so while it wasn’t on the deck when we landed, we saw it numerous times during the week.

P-633 Tu204

Lastly, the ex-Cubana IL62 (P-886P) has been dismantled for parts and no remains were evident during our visit.

P-835 Il18

All charter and optional pleasure flights were operated as promised by Air Koryo, so the group enjoyed flights on TU204, IL18, TU134, AN24, IL62, IL76 and TU154 aircraft. Not exactly your usual line up for a week of flying. All of the aircraft were in extremely good condition, and particularly in the case of the IL18, TU134, AN24 and TU154 flights, adequate opportunities were given to get shots of the aircraft from all angles, with Air Koryo even removing the stairs and positioning them at a location from where we were allowed to climb them again for some stunning elevated images. This was particularly rewarding for the IL18 flight, where stunning images of the 4 prop were captured with the awesome snow capped volcano MountPeaktuin the background. Memorable indeed.

P-537 An24

And that’s about all the advice I can give regarding the craft of Air Koryo. All I will say is that if you are tempted to do one of the trips, do so. I am absolutely sure you will not regret it. David of Juche Travel Services is a dream to do business with and I do not hesitate to recommend their services 100%. Do not believe all the hype – while their ideology is different from ours, it is absolutely nothing like I thought it would be – it is clean, safe, fascinating, extremely beautiful and the people are an absolute joy to spend the week with. While I consider myself extremely fortunate to have travelled with such an entertaining group (I really didn’t expect to be in tears of laughter for most of the week), I think it was best summed up on the last night by one of the participants, who said “I never expected to be leaving North Korea missing the people and the place as much as the aircraft”. If you are booked on one of the upcoming trips, you are in for a treat. If you are not, but would like to, do not hesitate. You will not regret it or ever forget it.

5 Old Jet hubs not to miss

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Asia, Indonesia, Iran, Middle East, North America, North Korea, USA | Posted on 31-01-2012


First and second generation jet airliners are getting rarer and rarer these days. It makes me incredibly sad, but at least for the time being we have these airports which are still great for catching old smokeys in action.


FedEx DC-10 (c) Dylan Ashe. Creative Commons

FedEx DC-10 (c) Dylan Ashe. Creative Commons

Memphis, TN
You’ve gotta love FedEx. They keep old birds flying. But they also have many new aircraft coming on line, such as the B777F which are replacing the older types.

For the time being, you can head to their Memphis, TN, base to catch quite a few classic DC/MD-10 aircraft coming and going each day. Depending on whether you consider A300-600 and A310-300 aircraft to be old or not, you can also see those. Also, as the airline is bringing in lots of second-hand B757 freighters, it’s another one I’ll leave you to decide on whether they’re an old jet or not!



Jakarta, Indonesia
Last time I visited Jakarta’s main CGK airport, it was still a hub for B727’s, B737-200’s, DC-9’s, DC-10’s and F-28’s. It was incredible, and great for filling lots of gaps in my log book from the 80’s and 90’s.

Today there are still a number of these types around, but it has dwindled significantly. More prevalent are MD-80’s and B737-300/400’s, which are becoming classics. Sadly the A320 and 737NG are now more dominant.


(c) Konstantin von Wedelstaedt

Tehran Mehrabad, Iran
Iran’s sanctions have meant its many airlines are forced to use older types in passenger service. The famed Saha Air B707 no longer fly. But for the time being at this domestic airport you’ll see Yak42’s, B727-200’s, MD-80’s, A300B2/B4’s, A310-200’s and a few other Russian types. Sadly the TU-154 and IL-62 aircraft no longer fly passengers in Iran.


Air Koryo An148

Pyonyang, North Korea
Air Koryo, the national carrier or North Korea, still operates a number of classics from its Pyonyang base. These include TU-154’s, TU-204’s, IL-18’s, and IL-62’s. Regular enthusiast tours travel to the country and take in flights on all of these types. You can also fly in from Beijing and arrange domestic flights.



Detroit Willow Run Airport
The original Detroit Airport is now mainly a cargo hub. Whilst the number of classic types operating here has declined, you can still see older B727’s, B747-100/200’s, DC-9’s, and Lockheed Electras around the place regularly.

Air Koryo Enthusiasts Tour Announced – lots of old airliners!

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Asia, North Korea, Spotting Trip Reports | Posted on 19-12-2011


I saw this tour announced today and it immediately caught my attention. Specialist North Korea tour operator Juche Travel Services have put together a tour of North Korea aimed at aircraft enthusiasts.

As author of the book Last Chance to Fly, the reason it caught my attention so much was the fact that you will get to fly on the Ilyushin IL-62, Antonov AN-24, Ilyushin IL-18 and either Tupolev TU154 or TU204. I would love the chance to do this.

I can guarantee this will be one of your last chances to take a flight on these aircraft, as very few now fly passengers anywhere in the world.

The 7 day tour takes place in May 2012 from Beijing, China, and sees you fly to Pyongyang and a number of domestic airports, whilst taking in the sights and local culture on an excellent itinerary.

The price is EUR 1,675 per person.

Sadly this may be a little expensive for me, so I may not get to fly on these classic airliners. But I hope some of you will give it a go and send us some pictures!

You can read more about it on the Juche Travel Services website http://www.juchetravelservices.com/news.html