Cargo aircraft can sometimes be quite elusive. Flying mostly at night, you’ll have to track them down to their various outstations or bases during the day when they typically rest before their next assignments.
There are a number of interesting and busy airports across Europe which are hubs for cargo flights, and spotting opportunities exist for seeing these aircraft, even if photography is sometimes not possible owing to their likelihood of moving in the dark.
Here are our suggestions of Europe’s best cargo airports for spotters.
East Midlands is probably the UK’s most notable cargo airport. It successfully transitioned from a quiet regional airport into a hub for cargo airlines such as DHL and UPS. These now serve the airport daily alongside their partners, such as West Atlantic and Star Air.
Cargo flights operate mostly at night between 2100-0200 from Sunday to Friday. During the daytime you will only likely see a few DHL aircraft parked up, although there are usually more evident on Saturdays. UPS and Star Air aircraft usually park on the eastern cargo ramp, whilst others use the large dedicated DHL ramp at the western end of the airport.
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Most spotters come here to watch the cargo movements, which are dominated by DHL and its partner carriers and cover all aircraft sizes up to Boeing 747-8.
The airport has two parallel east-west runways. The vast cargo site is on the southern boundary stretching the length of runway 08R/26L. Most cargo movements are at night, so spotting in the summer months can enable you to get pictures of these aircraft when it is lighter later.
Paris Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle, despite being France’s busiest passenger airport, is also a major hub for FedEx Express and sees many other cargo airlines fly in on a daily basis. The FedEx flights come in waves starting around 2100 and lasting into the early hours.
Most aircraft are gone by the morning, but some operate during the day or hang around for maintenance work. Sadly it’s difficult to see the FedEx facility, so you’ll need to wait and see them when they move. Having a room in a spotting hotel like the Ibis Style (here’s our review) is therefore a good option!
Another busy UK airport for cargo flights is London Stansted, to the north of the city. It handles FedEx, UPS and other worldwide cargo airlines. The cargo centre is on the same side as the passenger terminal, so you can usually see aircraft fairly easily.
If you have a room at the Hampton by Hilton Stansted Airport you’ll get a good view of the cargo terminal and its movements.
Cologne/Bonn is a hub for UPS Airlines and handles many other cargo carriers. The large central cargo complex stretches away from the passenger terminal, with aircraft movements visible from the viewing terrace on the terminal. Many aircraft park up during the day.
Car park P1 offer views over the ramp around the cargo area and parts of the gates from ground level. You can take photographs of some aircraft.
Despite being only a modest sized regional airport, Liege has positioned itself as one of Europe’s leading cargo airports. The airport is a hub for ASL Airlines Belgium, and is also served by many other worldwide cargo airlines.
To make the most of seeing cargo aircraft it’s best to visit at night. Most movements are during the early hours, with departures starting at 4am. If you visit during the day you may still see a number of aircraft parked on the ramp, and the occasional movement.
This regional airport in the south-west of Sweden is the home base of cargo carrier West Air Sweden, and a hub for other cargo carriers like Amapola Flyg, ASL and UPS Airlines. The cargo aprons and hangars are to the south of the passenger terminal.
There is a small viewing area outside the terminal. Turn left as you leave the building and you’ll see it near the parking garage. There are also views through the fence if you turn right.
The amount of traffic experienced in recent years has been causing problems for Amsterdam Schiphol. Part of the problem is in the number of freighters using the airport, which include carriers from all over the world, as well as based airlines like Martinair and KLM Cargo. The freighters use facilities to the south of the terminal, as well as on the eastern side of the airport.
You don’t need to go to any of these locations to see Amsterdam’s cargo traffic as they are visible from the Panorama Terrace as well as the other viewing locations around the airport.
Another of Europe’s big hubs is also popular with cargo traffic.
Frankfurt handles freighters from home-based Lufthansa Cargo, as well as airlines across Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Most common are the likes of Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Korean Air, AirBridgeCargo and DHL Aviation.
There are good spots close to all runways at Frankfurt where you can watch and photograph movements. The viewing area at Terminal 2 is not the best for seeing the freighters, which usually park on the south side where there are dedicated stands.
Find out more about these and other European cargo airports in our new guide.
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