Have you planned any spotting holidays this year yet?
With this list of the top 20 trips we think you could take as a spotter you’ll have plenty of inspiration, whether you’re looking for a long or short trip.
Read on and get some inspiration!
Dubai Grand Excelsior Deira
Still one of the best all-round spotting hotels in the world (since changing ownership the hotel is more discouraging of spotters). The Grand Excelsior Deira (formerly the Sheraton Deira) close to the end of Dubai International’s runways has a rooftop terrace with sun, swimming pool, food and drink all day long. Not to mention the great quality of aircraft passing overhead day and night.
You can watch aircraft from the hotel rooftop, especially if aircraft are landing over you. Many rooms also have views of the action so you can keep spotting through the night!
Seattle’s Boeing Airports
Seattle is the primary manufacturing site for Boeing airliners, with three airports dedicated to the work. A few days here (flying in to the equally interesting Seattle/Tacoma Airport) is perfect for exploring Renton Municipal, where Boeing 737s are made, Everett Paine Field, where 747s, 767s, 777s and 787s are made, and Boeing Field where 737s are tested and delivered. Hiring a car is your best option. Whilst there make sure you visit the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, which has an incredible collection of historic aircraft.
Japan’s Observation Decks
The airports in Japan do things the right way. They understand that people like to come to airports to watch planes and wave off family, and therefore almost every airport has at least one observation deck. In some examples there’s a deck on each terminal! A spotting holiday in Japan can therefore be really rewarding, from the sheer volume of big jets at places like Tokyo Haneda, Narita, and Osaka Kansai, to the smaller airports like Sapporo, Fukuoka and Nagoya.
It’s really easy to fly between each of these airports and the 60+ others in the country using mainline carriers like ANA and JAL, which fly anything from a DHC-8 to a Boeing 787 on domestic routes.
North Korea Tour
A popular journey many spotters and old jet enthusiasts have been taking in recent years is to North Korea where national airline Air Koryo offers flights on a range of Russian-built jets. The trips are organised by specialist tour companies such as Juche Travel Services and allow visitors the opportunity to see this reclusive and restricted country whilst flying on aircraft such as the Ilyushin Il-18, Il-62 and Il-76, Tupolev Tu-134 and Tu-154, and Tu-204. There are few chances left to fly on these old types now, so this is a great way of combining them all in one trip.
Stockholm Jumbo Stay
I visited Stockholm a few years ago to check out the city’s two main airports, Arlanda and Bromma, which are fairly busy and interesting to the spotter. High on my priority list for that trip was to spend the night in the Jumbo Stay Hostel at Arlanda Airport. This former Pan Am and Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-200 has been converted into a basic, yet very comfortable, place to stay alongside the runways at the airport. Where the passenger cabin once was, rooms are now in place with beds, a TV, and a porthole window looking out over the wing; if you’re lucky, you’ll also see plenty of aircraft coming and going at the airport. Upstairs, where the cockpit once was, is a suite room with fantastic views and a double bed.
Los Angeles Area
Southern California and Los Angeles make a great holiday destination for all the family, with plenty to see and do. For the spotter there are a lot of options for airports to visit. The most prominent is naturally Los Angeles International, or LAX, which is very busy and has good spotting locations and spotting hotels.
Elsewhere, there are busy airports at Long Beach, Santa Ana/John Wayne, LA/Ontario and Burbank.
Van Nuys is also one of the busiest airports in the world for biz jet spotting, with a number of great locations to spot at.
A little further afield you can visit the storage airports at Victorville and Mojave.
Palma de Mallorca
The Spanish island of Mallorca is a popular holiday destination for people living in northern Europe. Its busy airport is always a great place to see an abundance of leisure and low cost airliners, as well as domestic Spanish airliners.
Many spotters choose to stay at the Hotel Marina Luz located in Ca’n Pastilla. Its rooms have great views of aircraft on one of the runways, and is a short distance from the airport.
Beijing and its museums
Beijing Capital is one of the world’s busiest airports, at the heart of a country which has an expanding aviation industry. Coming here as a spotter is a chance to log and photograph hundreds of airliners every day which rarely venture outside of China. Popular hotels for spotting include the Langham Place, which has views of arrivals and is only a short walk from a good spotting location.
Elsewhere, Beijing’s old Nan Yuan airport is interesting to visit, as are the different aviation museums in the city. The China Aviation Museum at Datangshan is perhaps best known and definitely worth a visit, housing hundreds of retired military jets and airliners.
Every July the greatest airshow on earth comes to Oshkosh, WI, in the hands of EAA AirVenture. For a week or so, Wittman Regional Airport, which otherwise handles a few commuter flights and FBOs, becomes the busiest airport on earth with some 6,000 aircraft visiting.
The show is heavily biased towards general aviation and experimental aviation, but it’s also a show where the latest airliners and military transports visit and join in a display each day.
If you want to spend time among thousands of fellow avgeeks talking aircraft and flying, and possibly even camping under the wing of an aircraft for a week, this show is for you. For the spotter you’d have to like light aircraft, but if you do your log book will swell!
Istanbul has become a popular place for spotters to visit. However, Antalya, on Turkey’s southern coast, is more appropriate for a spotting holiday as it combines resort luxury and relaxation with a steady stream of aircraft using the adjacent airport.
Summer is naturally the busy time for the airport and, whilst the heavy emphasis on Russian airliners is now mainly of the Airbus and Boeing variety, you should have no problem adding plenty of aircraft to your logs.
Resorts such as the Lara Hotel are the perfect choice. All rooms face the sea, with balconies, and aircraft approaching can be seen on either side, depending on the runway in use. Additionally, the pool area is also a good place to watch aircraft.
Florida is a wonderful place for a spotting holiday. It has the sunshine and warmth, the ease of getting around via road or air, and lots of interesting things to see for those interested in aircraft.
Most people will arrive at Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Orlando, which are Florida’s primary gateways and all very interesting places to spot at. Miami and Fort Lauderdale both have a number of useful spotting locations.
Other airports you will want to visit include Fort Lauderdale Executive and Kendall-Tamiami for biz jets, and the many smaller fields which cater to the booming private hire and general aviation scene.
Toulouse Blagnac is a large regional airport in southern France, and home to the Airbus consortium which assembles airliners on the site. Specifically, the A320, A330, A350 and A380 lines are manufactured here in a series of gigantic hangars.
Because of this, spotters often spend a few days here to catch up on the latest airliners off the production line. At any time up to 40 could be sat in the final stages of fitting out, awaiting delivery, or undergoing tests. ATR also manufacture their turboprop airliners here, adding to the mix of unusual colour schemes not often seen in Europe. Visitors can take a tour of the Airbus facilities, either into the A380 halls, or around the rest of the production site (my preference).
Toulouse Airport itself is not especially busy, although it does see many daily flights by European carriers, and especially domestic French aircraft. There are a few good spotting locations to watch the action, and its also worthwhile visiting the Aeroscopia Museum while you’re here.
Whether you’re visiting the United Kingdom or already live here, a visit to the Scottish highlands is a must for any aircraft spotter wanting to see something a bit different. The main gateways to Scotland are at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness airports. From here, local carriers such as Flybe/Loganair offer regular links to the many islands and remote airports around the country using aircraft such as the Twin Otter, BN Islander and Saab 340. For many the highlight is a trip to the beach runway at Barra – the only commercial beach runway in the world!
Bangkok and Phuket
Thailand is a great place for a spotting holiday, with two main centres in Bangkok and Phuket. These are also the two busiest tourist destinations, so it’s easy to find a way to get there from anywhere in the world. It also means that airliner traffic is busy and interesting.
Bangkok has two main airports – Don Mueang and the newer Suvarnabhumi. Both have spotting areas, and the Grand Inn Come Hotel at Suvarnabhumi is the best spotting hotel option in the capital.
Phuket by contrast is a paradise. Airliners small and large pass low over the beach, framing themselves for photographs against a blue sky and palm trees. The Centara Grand West Sands Resort has rooms with a view of the action and is keen to welcome spotters.
Rio de Janeiro
Brazil’s carnival city is home to two busy airports and a lot of aircraft traffic from across Brazil, South America and further afield. Galeao Airport is the main international gateway. It has an observation deck in Terminal 1 and windows where you can view the action in Terminal 2.
Santos Dumont is the busy downtown airport handling mainly domestic and biz jet traffic. It is set against the backdrop of Sugarloaf Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer. You can spot from within the terminal, or from the perimeter road at the southern end.
South African Adventure
Like many warm, sunny destinations, South Africa has a particular call to aircraft spotters from around the world. It is one of the best and easiest places in Africa to pursue the hobby, and has some interesting airports to visit at Johannesburg, Cape Town and Rand.
Most will arrive into the former two through the many international links. Each also host domestic and regional links across South Africa and further into Africa. You may wish to take in a safari, or fly on one of the historic airliners of Skyclass Aviation.
The airport at Rand is home to the SAA Museum and its collection of preserved airliners – including two Boeing 747s!
Maldives Sea Planes
The Maldives are a paradise destination in the Indian Ocean. With resorts scattered across the tiny islands of this low-lying country, the normal way for guests to get around once they arrive in the international airport at Male is by seaplane.
This is a big attraction for spotters who like to combine a relaxing holiday in luxury with some scenic trips on Twin Otters operated by Maldivian Airlines. You can realistically see all of the fleet come and go over a few days if you’re near one of the seaplane bases.
Russian Old Jets
It’s sadly harder by the year to see Russian old jets. The Ilyushin Il-96 and Tupolev Tu-154 are all but gone from the skies outside of Russia now, and its pretty hard to see them once you’re there since most Russian airlines now opt for western aircraft types today. So this spotting holiday is one which requires a lot of careful research, planning and a bit of willingness to brave locations and air carriers that are not widely known.
It is still possible in 2016 to fly on Tu-134, Tu-154 and other Russian types on domestic flights – often those used within Siberia, and to service mining communities – by dealing directly with the carrier or a Russian tour organisation. A good place for inspiration and booking tips is the Special Flights Enthusiasts Facebook page.
St Maarten Maho Beach Holiday
The spotting location that should be on the bucket list of every aviation enthusiast is Maho Beach on the island of Sint Maarten in the Caribbean. I shouldn’t need to explain how good this location is, with a sun-drenched beach, spotting hotel, cafe, oh and a large airport right next to you. The airport handles lots of small inter-island commuter aircraft and biz jets, and also daily large jets by the likes of Air France, KLM, Insel Air, JetBlue, American and United. It often seems they come so low that you can almost touch the wheels! It’s perfect for photography, logging, and relaxing!
Weekend in Paris
A weekend in Paris is a treat for any holidaymaker. If you’re a spotter it can serve this purpose well, too.
With two very busy international airports at Charles de Gaulle and Orly, you can easily spend your days filling up the log book and camera cards with aircraft from around the world. Each has a couple of great spotting locations and spotting hotels to make sure you miss very little.
Once you’ve drained these airports there’s the third airport at Le Bourget to contend with. It’s busy with biz jet traffic, but most people come here for the Musee de l’air et l’espace (Museum of Air and Space). It includes Concorde, Boeing 747, Caravelle and much more to explore.
With thanks to Paul Moiser whose pictures illustrate this article. Check out his aircraft photography here.