Cancun is a popular holiday destination and there are often a lot of requests about places to spot at the airport. Therefore we have this comprehensive guide which comes courtesy of a businessman who regularly visits Cancun, with additional information from Mike Nelson and Mark Birchenough.
Before going on holiday to Mexico, I sought the advice of a number of people on spotting at Cancun. Back in 2000 when I first visited Cancun, there were one or two places inside the terminal which could be used for spotting. Everything could be seen as long as it moved, because everything took off and landed on the one runway. I again visited in 2006, not long after the hurricane which devastated the whole area, but I did not have the opportunity for any extensive spotting except on departure. Since then the airport has changed substantially, particularly with the addition of the new runway.
I set out below the current situation based on information I have received from others, together with my own observations:
First of all it should be pointed out that our hobby is not understood in Mexico. In addition, the authorities are very security conscious in vew of their relationship with the USA, and Mexico has many internal problems of its own, mostly, but not exclusively, drugs related (although Cancun is far removed from the problem areas). As such, it is not surprising to learn that with numerous police patrolling the airport and the surrounding areas, you will quickly receive a visit if spotting in the vecinity of the airport. So spotting from landside is not a good idea even if there was anywhere halfway decent to spot from.
Cancun airport now has two runways and the three terminal buildings are located between the two runways. The approach road to the terminals goes under a bridge which aircraft landing on the new runway have to taxi over in order to get to the terminals. As far as I can make out, the new runway (which opened in October 2010) seems to be used only for landings. The old runway (which is longer) is used for take-offs and some landings.
Terminal 1 was badly damaged in the October 2005 hurricane and is currently disused. Terminal 2 consists of the octagonal satellite (Gates A) and the aprons to the east of the satellite (Gates B). Gates B are used by the Mexican airlines. Gates A are used by Canadian airlines, Jetblue, Frontier, Air Tran, most continental European airlines including British Airways and Thomson. The new Terminal 3 is used by all other US airlines.
The General Aviation Terminal is located on the end of Terminal 1 but survived the hurricane. If driving, there is a specific car park for this Terminal with the standard ticket barrier at the entrance. Alternatively you can walk to the GA Terminal from the main terminals and there are some views to be had on the way. The area is open and is used by many airport workers. There is a police station next to the GA Terminal, so expect to see an increased presence here. Walk into the GA Terminal and you’ll get views onto the ramp, so have a clear memory for logging! There are loos in here as well (to the left) to give a reason for going in in the first place. There are also views from the left hand side overflow car park; most can be read without the need of optics. At the right time of year these ramps are full with biz, and well worth any effort.The only views of the GA terminal airside are from the satellite on the end of Terminal 2. However the interior of the satellite has been altered to segregate arriving passengers from those departing and the holding area for departing passengers now has only very limited views of the GA ramp.
The ‘non-satellite’ part of Terminal 2 has excellent views of the ‘old runway’ but no view of the GA ramp as the satellite is in the way. It is possible to freely access the satellite from the main part of Terminal 2 and vice versa regardless from which part your flight leaves.
I didn’t visit Terminal 3, so the following information comes from other reports. Terminal 3 is the furthest away from the GA Terminal and it is impossible to see the GA ramp from it – in any case it is well over half a mile away. In front of these stands is the taxiway from the bridge that crosses the approach road so one can see everything that lands on the new runway when it taxis past. The good news is that a new GA Terminal and ramp are being built on the far side of this taxiway but it will not be ready until mid 2012 or so. When it is finished, anything parked there will be clearly visible from Terminal 3.
By walking back through Terminal 3 you can read everything parked on the various narrow body gates and some of those on Terminal 2. You will not see everything that lands on the old runway as some stop short to taxi to the satellite or the GA Terminal. There is one spot landside outside the far end of Terminal 3 where you can see the aircraft parked on the widebody stands plus everything that crosses the bridge and whatever takes off on the old runway once it passes the end of the building – but you would have to be quick. A camera is probably better to use rather than bins or a ‘scope.
Finally, choose a right hand window seat for departure as you will either taxi past or take off past Terminal 2 and its satellite, then the GA Terminal, next Terminal 1 – they still park some aircraft on the ramp there – and finally the remote parking area halfway to the threshold with several derelict aircraft.