One of the most interesting airports in Australia, and its busiest, is Sydney Kingsford Smith.
This major hub is home to Qantas, Virgin Australia and other local airlines, and also serves as a major international gateway serving flights from across Asia, North and South America.
For the spotter, Sydney provides various locations to watch and photograph airliners, and with the excellent weather enjoyed for much of the year, it makes your photographs look good, and spending time outside pleasurable.
Here’s our guide to plane spotting in Sydney.
Sydney Airport Location and Layout
Sydney has three runways, 07/25, 16L/34R and 16R/34L.
The airport has three main terminals – two on the eastern side, and the International Terminal on the western side, plus a freight area.
The terminals are:
Terminal 1 – The International Terminal, used by Qantas international flights and other international carriers serving Sydney.
Terminal 2 – Domestic terminal, serving FlyPelican, Jetstar, Regional Express and Virgin Australia.
Terminal 3 – Domestic terminal, serving Qantas and QantasLink.
Sydney Airport Highlights
For many, one of the highlights of Sydney is the approach from the north which passes the sights of Sydney Harbour on the left.
But at the airport itself, there are various highlights.
For those not local to Australia, the chance to see much of the country’s domestic fleet – at least that which uses the west coast – is a highlight. Qantas, Virgin Australia and Regional Express send much of their fleets through Sydney on any given week, with trunk routes operating many times per day.
There’s also the chance to see many airlines from across Asia, with the Far East being a big user of the airport, as well as Indonesia.
The busy link to New Zealand also sees many aircraft from both countries operating each day.
Sydney does see some general aviation and executive aircraft, as well as freighters from big names such as Cathay Pacific, Emirates, FedEx, Kalitta Air, Singapore Airlines and UPS.
Sydney Spotting Locations
These are the best places for plane spotting at Sydney Airport. If you know of any others, please leave a comment below!
- Domestic Terminals
One of the better views of the action at Sydney is from the domestic terminals gate areas. You will need to pass through security screening, but don’t need a boarding pass. The windows at the end of the pier look out over the domestic gates, runways, and the distant international terminal. So you won’t miss many movements, and photography – although through glass – is acceptable.
- Domestic Terminals
A very popular spot, the beach sits close to the International Terminal’s aprons, and alongside runway 16R/34L. From the pleasant surroundings you can watch and photograph aircraft taxying and using the runway, and take some nice photographs. Some movements will be obscured, and you can’t really see the terminals. To reach the spot you’ll need a car or taxi. Exit General Holmes Drive after passing underneath the runway, signposted Airport View/Cooks River. Park in the car park and walk to the beach.
- Shep’s Tower Mound
A new official spotting location at Sydney located alongside runway 16R/34L, but with all runways and some taxiways visible. The location has parking and raised areas to give you unobstructed photography opportunities above the fenceline. Its all-round views make it good throughout the day. To reach the spot follow Ross Smith Ave from the domestic terminal area (behind the DHL buildings) all the way to the end.
Sydney Spotting Hotels
These are the hotels at Sydney Airport which are good for plane spotting.
Citadines Connect Sydney Airport
121 Baxter Road, Mascot, 2020 NSW, Australia | +61 2 8303 8888 | www.citadines.com
A fairly new hotel on Baxter Road, behind the Domestic Terminal and maintenance area, and close to the biz jet parking areas. It was called the Felix Hotel when first opened, but has since changed. Smart and stylish, with a travel theme throughout. 70 of the 150 rooms face the airport, and have different prices based on class. Views are good of movements and nearer areas, but International Terminal out of sight.
Mantra on Sydney Airport
3 Ross Smith Ave, Mascot NSW 2020 | +61 2 8398 0700 | www.mantra.com.au
Another new hotel north of the airport near the domestic terminal. Upper rooms have a view of runway 07/25 and the FBO areas, but other areas are out of sight and photography is not really possible.
Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel
8 Arrival Ct, Sydney Airport, NSW 2020 | +61 2 9313 2500 | www.rydges.com
A good replacement for the closed International Terminal observation deck. Located just behind the terminal, the Rydges has seized the opportunity presented by spotters by providing day access to its panoramic terrace for a fee. You can see and photograph movements around the terminals and runway 16R/34L. Higher rooms facing the same direction have a similar view, and the hotel offers spotters packages which include the best views, food and drink allowance, information sheet, free Wi-Fi and a pair of binoculars!
Other Sydney Airports
Sydney is currently seeing a new airport being built to relieve pressure on Kingsford Smith. It will serve airlines and passenger traffic, and is set to open in 2026. It is located at Badgerys Creek, and known as Western Sydney Airport. Its more rural location and blank slate allows a removal of noise and nighttime restrictions, and good connections to the transport network.
BWU | YSBK
Sydney’s other airport, at Bankstown, is largely a general aviation hub 14 miles east of downtown and Kingsford Smith Airport. Despite only having a couple of airline routes from Toll Aviation, Bankstown is presently the fourth busiest airport in the country, so worth a visit if you’re not just into airliners. There are often smaller airliners and bizjets present. Spotting is best if you have a car and can drive around the perimeter logging what you see through the fence as there are lots of parking areas and hangars.