It’s Heathrow! UK Airports Commission publishes recommendation

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport News, Heathrow, Miscellaneous Spotting, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 01-07-2015

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Heathrow R3 south west option

The UK Airports Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, has given its recommendation that Heathrow be the London airport that gets an extra runway, it has been announced.

The Commission was given the task in 2012 of settling the decades-long argument over where extra capacity should be considered in the south east of England. The two primary airports in the region – Gatwick and Heathrow – are both close to capacity, with Gatwick being the busiest single-runway airport in the world.

However, Heathrow is the busiest hub in the country and has the most need for a new runway (its third), according to the report. It said that, whilst Gatwick’s proposal was plausible, not expanding Heathrow would put the UK at risk of losing out to continental Europe.

Airports at Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris Charles de Gaulle are already way ahead in runway capacity and are attracting growth from airlines.

Whilst this is only the recommendation, the government will make a decision in 2016 on any expansion.

Davies said: “Heathrow … provides the greatest benefits for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy,” adding “Further delay will be increasingly costly and will be seen nationally and internationally as a sign that the UK is unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to maintain its position as a well-connected, open trading economy,”

Heathrow has estimated that building could start in 2020 and the new runway would be ready in 2025, but that could be held up by the government’s decision and tough planning laws.

Belavia Tu-154 flight video

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Belarus, Eastern Europe, Miscellaneous Spotting, Spotting Trip Reports, Spotting Videos, Switzerland, Western Europe | Posted on 16-06-2015

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At the end of May I was on board Belavia’s Tupolev Tu-154 EW-85748 on what was billed as the final regular scheduled service of the type in western Europe. The flight was from Geneva to Minsk, and you can read the report here.

I’ve put together this video of the flight. I hope you enjoy the sound of those engines!

Alitalia unveils its new livery

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airline News, Italy, Miscellaneous Spotting, Western Europe | Posted on 04-06-2015

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AlitaliaNewLivery2

It doesn’t seem long since Alitalia started painting its aircraft in the new livery we see today, but at a ceremony in Rome today, Airbus A330-200 I-EJGA was unveiled in a brand new corporate scheme.

The new scheme is clearly based on the Alitalia livery we all know well from the 1980s and 90s, but goes for a much more conservative look without the cheatline.

James Hogan, vice chairman of Alitalia and president and CEO of Etihad Airways, said: “The old Alitalia was a great brand but a challenged business. Now we are well on the way to seeing the rebirth of this iconic airline, in a new era of commercial success.

“The steps taken by Alitalia’s senior management team over the last five months are to be applauded. What we see here today is a business growing in confidence. The future is bright for the new Alitalia.”

“The new livery presented today marks a major milestone in the history of one of the most iconic Italian brands in the world,” added Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, chairman of Alitalia.

Some may consider this to be too much towards the ‘eurowhite’ which has plagued so many other European carriers, where the fuselage is devoid of any interesting scheme and simply painted white. But Alitalia may have been smart here, after so many criticised the placing of the cheatline below the windows on the previous livery.

Alitalia New Livery

What do you think?

The final Tupolev TU-154 scheduled flight in Europe – trip report

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Belarus, Eastern Europe, Russia and CIS, Spotting Trip Reports, Switzerland, Western Europe | Posted on 01-06-2015

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TU154 last scheduled flight

A few days ago I made the journey to Geneva in Switzerland to join a special flight which would be a first for me, but evidently a last for Europe.

Belavia, the national airline of Belarus, are the last European carrier to operate the Tupolev TU-154 in scheduled service and had made a decision to cease flying the type on such services in favour of its modern equipment, such as the Boeing 737 and Embraer 175/195 which are much more suited to modern travelers, unlike the Russian relics that were so dominant until the early 2000s.

Whilst Belavia doesn’t usually operate its TU-154s to Geneva, or on many scheduled services for that matter, Friday 29th May had been chosen as the symbolic last flight where it would substitute the smoking tri-jet in place of the usual CRJ or EMB-175 equipment.

I checked in at 9am, with most of the passengers clearly there for the event, having booked (like me) through the specialist tour agency Merlintour, which has organised three previous trips to Belarus for oldjet fans to experience flights on old Russian equipment. Arriving at the gate in one of Geneva’s satellites, around 90% of the crowd around me waiting for boarding to be called had cameras around their necks and were chatting excitedly about the upcoming flight; a few regular passengers, clearly not expecting this, looked on bemused.

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Eventually boarding was initiated. Our aircraft was parked at a remote stand and we were taken in two buses. Once there, passengers were allowed off ten at a time in order to give an opportunity to take some photos without crowding the ramp. The captain was stood underneath the nose, looking smart (and hot; it was 28 degrees out) in his full uniform, posing for selfies with anyone who asked.

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This was a first for me. I’d never flown a TU-154, or any Russian jet, before. Our aircraft was EW-85748. It sat glistening in the sun with mountains as a backdrop. Although we all think of this classic jet as old, it was in fact built in 1994 and was younger than the Lufthansa Boeing 737-500 that taxied past as we took photos. But the technology, design and style was definitely old and, clambering aboard, the cabin felt like something from a bygone age. It was split into two sections, with old-fashioned designs on the walls, seats that didn’t look like they could withstand much, and the smell of a museum piece.

TU-154 cabin

Because it took so long to board, we missed our departure slot. We sat for over an hour, with no air conditioning and a general hum from the APU that was louder than most modern jets at full thrust. Most agreed that this was not a problem, and any extra time on board was welcome.

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We eventually taxied off under a water cannon salute by the fire service, and performed a sprightly, yet shallow, takeoff towards France. The noise was immense and the aircraft seemed to scream as she took flight. Soon we commenced a wide turn back over Lake Geneva, with those on the starboard side treated to fantastic views over Mont Blanc and the Alps. From my port-side window seat I had a classic view over the wing, which seemed more flexible in flight than it looked when on the ground.

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During the flight the aisle became crowded. Passengers wanted to mingle and chat, and to have a look at the toilets and the view from the last window, which looked out on the engines. There were also TV crews from Belarussian stations interviewing the crew and passengers. The crew performed their duties as well as can be expected considering passengers were rarely seated, but as it came to the meal and drinks service we were told fairly sternly to sit down and shut up (I paraphrase), after which everyone had the choice of chicken or beef with rice, along with some sliced cucumber and a dry bun. Hardly nouvelle cuisine, but I was famished.

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Drinks came afterwards – some kind of Russian Champagne knock-off, and brown water masquerading as coffee. We didn’t mind.

The flight took around 2 hours and 40 minutes, passing over Germany, Czech Republic, Poland and Belarus. The engines whined down around 20 minutes before landing, and we made our way around the south of Minsk. The gear was deployed quite a way out, evidently to help slow the beast down. Landing was on runway 31, and was as smooth as can be, but again the engines went into a screaming frenzy as reverse thrust was deployed.

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A slow taxi past the modern terminal took us to a remote stand where, again, fire tenders were waiting to create an arch in salute to the last flight. My first and second water cannon salutes in one day! Outside, more TV crews were on the ramp to capture the moment.

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Following a brief ramp tour, Belavia’s Commercial Director, Technical Director, and the pilot from our flight, took the opportunity to present the airline’s history, and future vision, and talk about today’s flight. It was confirmed that as more new aircraft join the fleet, the three remaining TU-154s would be retired, likely by September 2016. Between now and then, they will operate only charters, such as taking mining groups to Siberia, or holidaymakers to Bulgaria.

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The flight was definitely over too quick, but a real experience. The atmosphere on board was fun and both the crews and organisers from Merlintour were completely understanding of, and prepared for, what a bunch of aviation enthusiasts would want – namely lots of opportunities for taking pictures, videos, and clambering about all over the aircraft. I think it’s great that a carrier like Belavia would embrace such an opportunity when they could simply want to talk about their new aircraft and quietly put away their old ones.

 

Virgin plans Boeing 747 retirement

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airline News, Heathrow, North America, UK, USA, Western Europe | Posted on 18-05-2015

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Virgin 747

Virgin Atlantic has penciled in the retirement of its Boeing 747 fleet.

Unless further changes occur, the final flight will be VS006 from Miami to London Heathrow on 17 April, 2016, arriving on 18 April at 1130am.

This will be a significant moment for the airline, which began services using a Boeing 747-200B in 1984 and has never been without the jumbo ever since. However, today the airline has a growing number of modern types such as the Airbus A330 and Boeing 787, and is still due to receive Airbus A380 superjumbos at some point (they have been deferred by the airline).

So now’s the chance to get a Virgin 747 flight booked if you haven’t yet!

Top 10 airports to number crunch at

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport Spotting Guide, Asia, China, Dubai, Eastern Europe, Frankfurt, Germany, Heathrow, Japan, Middle East, North America, Turkey, UK, USA, Western Europe | Posted on 30-04-2015

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If you’re the kind of spotter who likes to number crunch… that is, collect aircraft registration (or tail) numbers… then there are certain airports and spotting locations that are made for you. At these locations you’re likely to see lots of aircraft in a short period of time, and make the most numbers in your book possible.

Whilst everyone reading this will live in a different location and probably already have seen the aircraft of certain airlines, hopefully at least some of the airports will be an inspiration of how to make more inroads into filling your logbooks on future spotting trips.

If you have a particular favourite, or would like to suggest another airport, leave a comment below!

 

1. Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International

 

Atlanta Airport

Atlanta has been for many years the busiest airport in the world. Last year it handled almost 900,000 aircraft movements and, as home to Delta Air Lines, most of them were flown by its aircraft and those of its feeder partners. Southwest Airlines is also a major carrier here, along with a number of interesting international airlines.

Atlanta doesn’t offer any official viewing areas, but for most spotters here the only place to go is the Renaissance Concourse Hotel on the southern perimeter. A room (which will have a balcony) facing the airport on a higher floor will be paradise for plane spotters. It is a bit distant to photograph airliners on anything but the nearest runway, but with good binoculars and the help of flight tracking software you will log hundreds of aircraft registrations each day.

 

2. Dallas Fort Worth

 

Dallas Ft Worth

A huge airport in Texas, with seven runways and a complex of five terminals in the central area. Dallas Fort Worth is the home base of American Airlines, whose fleet of aircraft numbers almost 1,000 including that of regional partner Envoy and the former US Airways fleet. So if you need to add these aircraft to your log books, this airport is a good place to begin as movements are non-stop all day long.

The best place to watch aircraft at Dallas Fort Worth is the official Founders Plaza observation area off Highway 114. You’ll see a lot of aircraft movements from here, but with so many runways it’s hard to catch everything!

You can also do a loop on the Skylink Train monorail which passes all terminals with elevated views over many gate areas.

 

3. Oshkosh Wittman Regional

 

Oshkosh

Oshkosh for most of the year is a quiet regional airport with various general aviation and executive aircraft movements, along with historic aircraft from the interesting EAA Museum on site. However, come here for a week at the end of July each year and you’ll encounter the world’s busiest airport as it plays host to the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh Air Show. In recent years up to 15,000 aircraft have flown into the airport over the course of the air show week, with number crunchers filling multiple notebooks and all available time trying to catch everything! One pro tip is to photograph rows of aircraft and note them down later when you have more time, as logging everything simply becomes too demanding.

Most aircraft visiting Oshkosh during the air show are light aircraft, however you will also see many interesting experimental, historic, military and airliner aircraft in attendance to sweeten the log.

 

4. London Heathrow

 

Airbus A380 at Heathrow's Myrtle Avenue Spotting Location

Airbus A380 approaching Heathrow’s Myrtle Avenue Spotting Location

The busiest airport in the United Kingdom, and one of the busiest airports for international flights. Heathrow is great for its mix of airlines arriving from all over the world. Although there are a lot of European and North American carriers, plus British Airways and Virgin Atlantic aircraft, interesting carriers more than make up for it. The airport is also one of the busiest for Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 aircraft.

There are a number of places to spot around the perimeter, plus the Renaissance Hotel has great views and even does spotter packages! One of the favourite spotting locations when arrivals are from the east is Myrtle Avenue.

 

5. Dubai International

 

Dubai Airport © Dubai Airports

Having newly taken the crown of the busiest international airport in the world from Heathrow (see above), Dubai continues to offer a mouthwatering mix of aircraft from around the world. True, most movements are by the impressive Emirates Airline, with its huge fleet of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s, but other types from around the Middle East and Asia are fascinating to see and often very rare to the log book.

Spotting can be tricky (and misunderstood) here, so it’s best to find a hotel with a view, such as the excellent Sheraton Deira or the Nojoum Apartments.

 

6. Istanbul Ataturk International

 

Istanbul Spotting

Turkish Airlines’ phenomenal growth over recent years has thrust Istanbul’s two airports into the major leagues. Almost 57 million passengers used the larger Ataturk airport last year, mainly on Turkish Airlines’ flights, but also on a variety of other interesting carriers from around the world. It’s also a great airport for interesting cargo movements, often using some older airliners.

There is a shopping mall alongside one of the runways at Ataturk, with a seating area as part of the food court that overlooks the runway and is close enough to see all movements. Spotters are rarely bothered as long as they buy food and drink. Then, on an evening you can retire to a room at the Radisson Blu hotel, which has rooms overlooking the runway and taxiways.

 

7. Beijing Capital

 

Beijing

With almost 90 million passengers flying through last year, Beijing Capital is teetering on the verge of becoming the busiest in the world. It is certainly the busiest in Asia and China, and an obvious place to make dents into logging aircraft, particularly from the many domestic and regional airlines in China, and the airlines from around the Far East.

Although Capital is due to be superseded by a new airport in the coming years, for the time being it will keep on going, bursting at the seams.

The best place to spot is at the southern end of the airport, where there are a variety of locations just under the approach path to two of the runways. These can be walked to from the terminal, or ask a taxi driver to take you.

 

8. Tokyo Haneda

 

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Haneda is the busiest airport in Japan, and home to most of the domestic aircraft fleets in the country – namely the ones you are unlikely to see anywhere else in the world… and there are lot of them! In addition to this, the airport is regaining international flights at a good rate after years of living in the shadow of nearby Narita.

The airport has three official observation decks – one on each terminal. These are the best, and easiest, places to spot from to log aircraft. However, the problem with them is that you can’t see all movements from just one deck. So you’ll have to move around a bit. The decks on Terminal 1 and 2 are probably the best.

 

9. Frankfurt Main

 

Frankfurt Terminal 2 Visitors Terrace

Frankfurt is another of Europe’s more interesting airports, and one of the busiest. Like Heathrow it has a really nice mix of international airlines flying in, as well as the fleet of Lufthansa and its partners, plus a variety of charter and low cost airlines.

Spotting at Frankfurt is possible from a few locations, but these are spread out and none is perfect for catching all movements. The observation area on Terminal 2 is good for seeing aircraft on the ground and the main runways. There is also a small viewing area alongside the departure-only runway 18, but you’ll need a taxi or car to get there.

 

10. Van Nuys

 

LosAngeles-VanNuys

Van Nuys Airport is in the north of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley. It doesn’t handle any airline services at present, however it is on of the world’s busiest general aviation airports. It has two parallel runways, and last year handled over 260,000 aircraft movements. General aviation doesn’t just mean light aircraft… Van Nuys also handles a great number of executive movements, with all manner of biz jets.

The best place to spot aircraft at Van Nuys is the dedicated viewing area off Woodley Avenue at the end of Waterman Drive on the eastern side of the airport. You’ll see all runway movements from here.

Wizz Air A321 routes revealed

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airline News, Belgium, Eastern Europe, Hungary, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 28-04-2015

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Wizz Air

Wizz Air will shortly take delivery of its second aircraft type, the larger Airbus A321, which will complement its large fleet of A320s.

From November 2015, the type will enter service from its Budapest base on the following routes:

  • Budapest – London Luton – Starts 20 November 2015
  • Budapest – Eindhoven – Starts 16 December 2015
  • Budapest – Brussels Charleroi – Starts 16 December 2015
  • Budapest – Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen – Starts 16 December 2015
  • Budapest – Stockholm Skavsta – Starts 26 February 2016
  • Budapest – Tel Aviv – Starts 26 February 2016
  • Budapest – Alicante – Starts 27 February 2016
  • Budapest – Maastricht – Starts 27 February 2016

The airline has 26 Airbus A321s on order.

In other news, Wizz Air has announced its first flights to Iceland, with a twice-weekly link from Gdansk to Reykjavik starting in July.

Finnair flying the A350 to Europe on familiarisation flights

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airline News, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Frankfurt, Germany, Heathrow, Miscellaneous Spotting, Spain, Spotting News, Sweden, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 09-04-2015

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A350XWB Finnair

Finnair is due to be the third airline customer of the Airbus A350XWB in September, after Qatar Airways and Vietnam Airlines.

The airline has announced that it will fly the new aircraft between Helsinki and a variety of European destinations on crew familiarisation flights before it begins service on Finnair’s long-haul network.

In addition it will also fly the A350 domestically from Helsinki to Oulu and Rovaniemi as part of the familiarisation schedule.

European destinations include Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, London Heathrow, Malaga, Paris CDG, Stockholm Arlanda and Vienna.

At the time of writing the following schedule is planned:

Helsinki–Rovaniemi 05-Oct-15 AY421
Rovaniemi–Helsinki 05-Oct-15 AY428
Helsinki–Oulu 05-Oct-15 AY2369
Oulu–Helsinki 05-Oct-15 AY2370
Helsinki–London 06-Oct-15 AY831
London–Helsinki 06-Oct-15 AY840
Helsinki–Frankfurt 07-Oct-15 AY821
Frankfurt–Helsinki 07-Oct-15 AY822
Helsinki–Stockholm (Arlanda) 07-Oct-15 AY645
Stockholm (Arlanda)–Helsinki 07-Oct-15 AY650
Helsinki–Paris 08-Oct-15 AY871
Paris–Helsinki 08-Oct-15 AY890
Helsinki–Copenhagen 08-Oct-15 AY667
Copenhagen–Helsinki 08-Oct-15 AY668
Helsinki–Amsterdam 09-Oct-15 AY841
Amsterdam–Helsinki 09-Oct-15 AY842
Helsinki–Oslo 09-Oct-15 AY659
Oslo–Helsinki 09-Oct-15 AY658
Helsinki–Barcelona 10-Oct-15 AY3271
Barcelona–Helsinki 10-Oct-15 AY3270
Helsinki–Málaga 10-Oct-15 AY735
Málaga–Helsinki 11-Oct-15 AY736
Helsinki–Hamburg 11-Oct-15 AY851
Hamburg–Helsinki 11-Oct-15 AY852
Helsinki–Barcelona 11-Oct-15 AY3269
Barcelona–Helsinki 11-Oct-15 AY3272
Helsinki–Brussels 12-Oct-15 AY811
Brussels–Helsinki 12-Oct-15 AY812
Helsinki–Málaga 12-Oct-15 AY735
Málaga–Helsinki 13-Oct-15 AY736
Helsinki–Berlin 13-Oct-15 AY911
Berlin–Helsinki 13-Oct-15 AY912
Helsinki–Gothenburg 13-Oct-15 AY677
Gothenburg–Helsinki 13-Oct-15 AY674
Helsinki–Düsseldorf 14-Oct-15 AY703
Düsseldorf–Helsinki 14-Oct-15 AY704
Helsinki–Vienna 14-Oct-15 AY767
Vienna–Helsinki 14-Oct-15 AY768
Helsinki–Munich 15-Oct-15 AY803
Munich–Helsinki 15-Oct-15 AY804
Helsinki–London 15-Oct-15 AY995
London–Helsinki 15-Oct-15 AY996
Helsinki–Brussels 16-Oct-15 AY811
Brussels–Helsinki 16-Oct-15 AY812
Helsinki–London 16-Oct-15 AY995
London–Helsinki 16-Oct-15 AY996
Helsinki–Barcelona 17-Oct-15 AY3271
Barcelona–Helsinki 17-Oct-15 AY3270
Helsinki–Málaga 17-Oct-15 AY735
Málaga–Helsinki 18-Oct-15 AY736
Helsinki–Copenhagen 18-Oct-15 AY661
Copenhagen–Helsinki 18-Oct-15 AY666
Helsinki–Barcelona 18-Oct-15 AY3269
Barcelona–Helsinki 18-Oct-15 AY3272

Flights are on sale now from the Finnair website’s A350 page: http://www.finnair.com/a350

 

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Remember to check out our Airbus A350 Routes Page for details of Finnair’s long-haul destinations, and routes by other A350 airlines.

Frankfurt Terminal 2 Visitors Terrace Reopens

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport News, Frankfurt, Germany, Spotting News, Western Europe | Posted on 05-04-2015

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Frankfurt Terminal 2 Visitors Terrace

After a length period of closure and renovation, the visitors terrace on Frankfurt’s Terminal 2 will reopen this month.

The new terrace has a new floor, and also now has a glazed frontage and protective overhang which means photography is not going to be as good as before.

The other big change is that you no longer need to have your bags screened before entering the visitors terrace, which is as a result of the new protective glass and overhang.

Work is still ongoing to improve more floor area, and also to install seating. But for spotters, one of the more useful areas will now be back in action.

Frankfurt Terminal 2 Visitors Terrace is open daily 10am to 6pm (7pm on weekends and public holidays). It is accessed upstairs in the food court area.

  • Adults €3
  • Family (5 people) €12
  • Under 4’s and disabled people FREE

For more information see http://www.frankfurt-airport.com/content/frankfurt_airport/en/services/visitors-terrace.html

Heathrow Terminal 4 viewing area – spotting video

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport Spotting Guide, Heathrow, Spotting Videos, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 03-04-2015

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If you weren’t aware, London Heathrow airport relented recently and installed a new viewing area for plane spotting (here’s our report about its opening). The major drawback, however, was that it is located in the departures section of Terminal 4, so you’ll need an airline ticket to use it. Nevertheless, anything is better than nothing and you can also show up for your flight really early to make sure you get chance to enjoy it.

To give you an idea of what the Terminal 4 viewing area is like, here’s a decent video (by Dantorp Aviation) showing arrivals, departures and aircraft taxiing around the airport as seen from this area. The view is pretty good and you won’t miss much.