The Middle East – particularly around the United Arab Emirates – has become a major aviation hub, particularly with east-west travel and the rise of the big carriers such as Emirates and Qatar Airways. But what’s the difference between the many airports from an aviation enthusiast’s perspective? Here are some observations and highlights…
By far the busiest and most profitable airport in the region for the spotter. Dubai is a large airport, home base for Emirates, and visited by major airlines from around the world. It is still frequented by some older and Russian jets, and the constant sunshine makes it great for the photographer. BUT, you’ll have to splash out for the rooftop area of the Sheraton Deira Hotel, as there aren’t many good vantage points around the airport. Always be careful, as spotters still get unwelcome attention from authorities if they are seen brandishing cameras and binoculars in public.
Not too far from Dubai, Sharjah has turned itself into the region’s main low-cost airport. The days of smoking Russian aircraft and older generation Western jets are largely gone now, but you can still see the occasional interesting movement.
The airport still has airside tours available, but they are now quite expensive. Book through the airport’s website: http://www.shj-airport.gov.ae/
Doha is the rising star in the region. Its infrastructure is still quite basic, but it is expanding at quite a pace. Its home airline is Qatar Airways, who have a mixed medium- and long-haul fleet which flies in a similar wave pattern to Emirates at Dubai.
The only real places to spot here are inside the terminal, which has some windows at either end for passengers.
Home of Gulf Air, Bahrain is one of the older airports in the region, but is undergoing significant upgrades and expansion. It is served by a large number of passenger and cargo airlines, but not nearly as busy as Dubai or Doha.
Spotting is quite difficult. One option is the park near the end of Runway 30, or the waterside area near the end of runway 12.
This airport is also undergoing a massive terminal expansion. Home to Kuwait Airways, it is not as busy as the other Middle East airports mentioned, but still worth a look. There are some views close to the runway ends, and within the terminal.
Things will improve with the new terminal when it opens.
The second largest airport in the UAE, and served by home airline Etihad’s large fleet. Like other nearby airports, it operates a wave pattern of flights – many of which arrive late at night.
Spotting is possible from the roads at either end of the runways, but this can often arouse suspicion. Inside the terminal, the cafe area before security has views over the aprons and runways. Just be careful flashing equipment around with security present.