The northernmost extremity of the British Isles and United Kingdom is one of Europe’s best havens for aviation enthusiasts.
While the region often suffers from poor weather, Scotland is a place to enjoy remote and rugged scenery and the industrious aviation industry which serves them.
Added into the bag are busy airports and an interesting aviation museum. So, here are ten highlights for plane spotting in Scotland.
Glasgow’s main airport is a busy gateway to Scotland (the second busiest after Edinburgh), with many domestic, European and long haul links. Many long-haul routes are seasonal, such as those by Air Transat and WestJet. However, Emirates provides year-round A380 service, and there are many low-cost and scheduled services to keep spotters interested, as well as the interesting island-hopping services to the remoter parts of Scotland.
Both Loganair and British Airways have hangars here for maintenance, with GA on the north side of the runway.
From the terminal head west for Barnsford Road/A726 (avoid joining the M6 motorway) which loops around the end of runway 05. A crash gate adjacent to the threshold is popular, but there’s only space for one car to park. A footpath along the road helps you find a good spot to view and photograph through the fence.
Aberdeen’s Helicopter Hub
Aberdeen is a busy airport in north east Scotland which is a hub of activity surrounding the offshore oil industry, with much of its traffic made up from helicopters ferrying workers to and from rigs.
Airline flights to Aberdeen are often related to this also, with links to most regional airports across the UK and many Scandinavian airports. Some seasonal flights exist to holiday destinations, with TUI operating based aircraft, and cargo flights are operated.
The passenger terminal is to the west of the runway, with a dedicated helicopter terminal on the east side in Dyce village. Helicopter operators have maintenance bases to the north of the passenger terminal
On the eastern side of the airport Cordyce View (postcode AB21 7DS) is a residential street which runs to a crash gate. Opposite the houses is the fence next to the helicopter terminal and executive aircraft apron, which you can photograph through. The crash gate also looks out onto the runway, and has a small space for parking cars. Alternatively you can walk 5 minutes from nearby Dyce railway station.
From Cordyce View, you can walk along Foinavon Close, where there is an adjacent grass mound overlooking the airport from an elevated position, which is better for photographs.
National Museum of Flight
One of the UK’s premier aviation museums and collections.
The National Museum of Flight is located at East Fortune, a former wartime airfield, around 22 miles east of Edinburgh and easily reached off the A1.
The museum has a collection of aircraft is huge, housed across four main hangars as well as workshops and the outdoors space. It tells the story of aviation in Scotland in particular.
Civil aircraft in the collection include British Airways Concorde G-BOAA, Dan-Air London Comet 4 G-BDIX, British Airways BAC 1-11 G-AVMO as well as other smaller types and cockpits. Large military aircraft include an Avro Vulcan bomber, Panavia Tornado, and the world’s oldest surviving Hawker Siddeley Harrier.
The museum is open daily April-October and weekends November-March. See https://www.nms.ac.uk/national-museum-of-flight/
Barra Beach Landing
Barra is one of the most unusual airports in the world. In fact, it is the only airport to have scheduled services which land on beach runways. As a result, many enthusiasts add it to their bucket lists to fly to.
Loganair link the island, in the Outer Hebrides, twice daily from Glasgow using DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft which are capable of landing on the sand. Timetables vary depending on the tides!
The flight is truly unique, and Barra a wild and remote place.
Scotland’s busiest airport. Edinburgh Airport has grown significantly in recent years, managing to pull off expansion in full service, low cost and cargo services. Key operators of interest to the enthusiast include Air Canada, Atlantic Airways, Delta, Finnair, Lufthansa, Norwegian, Qatar Airways, Scandinavian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines, Vueling and Wizz Air.
On the northern perimeter of the airport at roughly the mid-point of the main runway is a crash gate just off a bridge over the River Almond, which is popular with local spotters.
Also, a 15 minute walk west of the passenger terminal leads to a large open air car park which fronts the perimeter fence alongside the taxiway and runway 06 threshold. Head for the Holiday Inn Express hotel and continue past it.
World’s Shortest Scheduled Flight
A place of pilgrimage for the world’s aviation enthusiasts, and a vital lifeline to locals, is the world’s shortest scheduled flight which operates between Westray and Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands.
This service is flown in both directions each day by Loganair on their island-hopping service flown by a BN2 Islander aircraft.
The two airports are a little over a mile apart, and the flight can take as little as a minute on a good day!
Perth is not a commercial airport with airline flights, but is one of the busiest general aviation airfields in Scotland.
It is three miles northeast of the city and has a number of flight training schools based, which are busy most days.
If you bring a hi-viz vest and ask at the tower or flying schools you are likely to be permitted access airside to see aircraft on the ground and in the hangars.
Western Island Hoppers
As well as Loganair’s services to the Orkney, Shetland and Outer Hebrides islands, Campbeltown and Tiree, additional services to smaller islands are flown by Hebridean Air Services.
This small carrier flies BN2 Islanders to islands such as Coll, Colonsay, Islay, and Tiree from its main hubs at Oban on the mainland.
These are a fascinating way to see some out of the way places and tiny airports, and you’ll learn to respect the skills of the pilots who maintain the links in often unforgiving weather conditions.
Dumfries Aviation Museum
A smaller aviation museum located near Dumfries in south west Scotland, close to the border with England.
The museum is based on the remains of the former RAF Dumfries airfield, with the historic control tower forming the main building. Outside is a collection of interesting aircraft, both military and civilian, including a Spitfire, Lightning, Hawker Siddeley Trident 3B.
Other indoor spaces have aircraft on display, as well as a shop and café.
Open March-November. See https://www.dumfriesaviationmuseum.com/
Prestwick in Ayrshire is no longer the Atlantic stopover point that it once was, but it does still see some interesting traffic – particularly military and cargo movements. Passenger flights are now limited to Ryanair, however freight services by the likes of Air France Cargo and Cargolux are common.
Prestwick has two runways at right angles. The passenger terminal and cargo apron are at the western side, with hangars and maintenance areas on the north side.
A popular unofficial place to watch movements is a mound and area of waste ground close to the intersection of the two runways. It has views across to the apron used by biz jets and some cargo aircraft, and excellent views of the runway. To reach the location head east from the terminal along the A79, Shawfarm Road, and then left onto Shaw Road (postcode KA9 2LN). The track to the waste ground is on your left.
For more information on plane spotting in Scotland and elsewhere across the United Kingdom and Ireland, our updated book is for you.
It lists all major airports and airfields, including military airfields, with details on where to spot and what you’ll see. Also includes details on spotting hotels and aviation museums to visit.