Tarbes Lourdes is a regional airport in the south of France close to the Pyrenees, Andorra and the border with Spain. It is an airport worth visiting for spotters if you are in the area – not because of the regular aircraft traffic, but because it is an increasingly busy airport for storing and dismantling large airliners from around the world.
This guide to spotting at Tarbes Lourdes Airport will show you how to make the most of your visit and where the best places are for viewing aircraft.
Tarbes Lourdes has a single, long runway, oriented 02/20. On the eastern side is the passenger terminal, general and business aviation terminal, and associated airport operations.
The western side is home to a large hangar and pans for parking aircraft.
The situation of the airport is quite spectacular, with the Pyrennees as a backdrop. It certainly helps liven up photographs, and there are a few locations to help with spotting on the ground.
Lourdes is a place of pilgrimage for Catholics and, as such, receives a regular stream of aircraft in relation to this. Pilgrims arrive on organised trips from airports all over Europe. These are usually flown on chartered aircraft from both French and international carriers. The mix is too varied and irregular to list here individually, but often includes airlines such as Air Medieterranee, Titan Airways, Germania, and Mistral Air.
Scheduled traffic is provided by Air France regional partner Hop!, which links to Paris a few times per day. TNT provides a cargo link.
In the summer there are a number of additional services by airlines such as Jetairfly, Enter Air, Ryanair, Air Nostrum, Albastar and Thomas Cook Airlines Belgium.
Tarbes Lourdes is now an important base for the storage and dismantling of airliners – in particular wide-body Airbus types, such as the A330 and A340.
Many of the aircraft will find new homes, but a lot are also dismantled for spares on site, so it’s not uncommon to see fuselages and parts of aircraft lying around. One of the biggest problems I found whilst spotting at Tarbes Lourdes was the fact that many of the aircraft had their registrations removed, so it took a bit of effort to find some other identifying markings, such as fleet or construction numbers on the nosewheel doors. Many have also been given a temporary F- registration.
In addition to the aircraft stored on the west side of the runway, a number are also stored on a strip of apron to the south of the terminal.
On my visit there were 37 stored airliners visible, of which 27 were Airbus A340 variants (including the A340-600 prototype, F-WWCA). The rest were made up of Airbus A300 (2), A319 (1), A320 (1), A330 (3), Boeing 737 (2), McDonnell Douglas MD-80 (1).
There are a few places to spot at Lourdes. It’s best if you have a car, but not essential. This map gives you an idea of the best locations I found.
1. This is the place to go if you don’t have a car. The road ramp leading from the car park to the departures level of the passenger terminal has a good, elevated view across to the storage area. Whilst it’s hard to see registrations from here, it gives you a good overview of what’s parked on the western side.
2. If you have a car, drive from the terminal and keep going straight. You’ll come to a small roundabout. Instead of joining the motorway, take the first exit and follow the road around the perimeter. At the next roundabout, turn right into an industrial estate. Then turn right again at the T-junction. An area of wasteground here offers a good view of the line of stored aircraft along this part of the airport. It’s also a good place to watch any movements on the runway.
3. Continuing along the perimeter road, take a right at the next roundabout. The road turns into pretty much a stone track here. Where it turns left towards Ossun, take a right and you’ll come to a crash gate. Don’t linger here too long, but you’ll be able to see a few more of the parked airliners.
4. Continue along the track parallel to the runway (not towards Ossun). This will be hemmed in by tall crops in the late summer, but eventually you’ll reach the back of Tarmac Aerosave. You can’t go in, but there are fleeting glimpses of aircraft parked around the hangar here – especially of those being dismantled.
Driving on, across the railway line, will eventually complete the loop of the airport, taking you back to the terminal or the N21 motorway.
Tarbes Lourdes is just one of over 300 airports to feature in my new World Airports Spotting Guides book. Find out more here: https://destinworld.com/product/world-airports-spotting-guides/
The book has detailed spotting locations, maps, spotting hotels, museums and much more.