Home Airport Spotting Guide The Best Airports in France for Aviation Enthusiasts

The Best Airports in France for Aviation Enthusiasts

Plane Spotting in France

by Matt Falcus

France is a large country with many cities, towns and famous places.

It has a long history of aviation, and today is home to production sites for Airbus and ATR, as well as major hub airports in Paris.

For enthusiasts, there are opportunities for spotting airliners, biz jets, light aircraft, aviation photography and visiting museum collections. But which are the best airports to visit? Here’s a guide:


Bordeaux Mérignac


The ZeroG A300 at Bordeaux. Photo (c) Erik Ritterbach

A fairly busy airport in south-west France with two runways and central terminal area. A cargo terminal is to the east, which DHL uses. The main airlines at Bordeaux are Air France, easyJet, Volotea, and Ryanair.

Many other carriers from across Europe fly in, with seasonal routes adding to the summer network.

The airport is also home to a military base, with some French Air Force traffic operating from ramps on the southern part of the airfield.

The northern part of the airport is a large maintenance base and technical school, and you’ll often see Airbus airliners parked up. In addition, there are two preserved Dassault Mercures, a Douglas DC-3, Airbus A300 and a Sud Aviation Caravelle in this area. Other airliners come and go for maintenance.

To view the storage and maintenance ramps, it’s possible to drive to an area of waste ground nearby. From the terminal head north, then west along the D213 around the rear of the hangars along the northern perimeter. Then turn left at the next roundabout (signposted Institut du Maintenance Aeronautique), and follow to the end. You’ll also see aircraft on the 05/23 runway from here, and can follow the perimeter track past the stored Dassault Mercure.




Corsair 747SP-44 F-GTOM / CHR

This is an unusual airport in central France which only has seasonal passenger flights and the occasional cargo flight. However, it has been used as a storage location for large airliners for many years.

The D920 road leading to the terminal building should uncover any aircraft parked on the main ramps. You can also take a detour along smaller roads passing either end of the runway should any action be taking place, allowing photography.




Plane Spotting at Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport

Lyon is a fairly busy airport in the south of France. It has two parallel runways in a north-south direction, with the two passenger terminal on the western side. The airport is a focus city for Air France, easyJet and Transavia France. Other interesting movements include Emirates to Dubai, a number of Air Algérie flights, and some long haul flights. Because of the proximity of the Alps, the airport has many seasonal flights in the winter months.

Lyon is also a busy airport for cargo, and to the south of the terminals look out for former Air Transat Lockheed L1011 TriStar, C-FTNA, which was damaged by hail in 2001 and has remained here ever since. It is now used for events by the airport.

Spotting Locations

  1. Raised Viewing Area
    From the terminal, follow the D517 through the car parks and north towards Pusignan. Eventually the road will turn right at a roundabout and cross the railway line before sweeping left. A small road on the right appears shortly afterwards. Take this, and then turn right again down a track which leads to a raised area of ground. You can see all movements from here, especially if using the northerly runways. The fence can obstruct photographs.
  2. Crash Gate
    Head south from the terminal towards the cargo terminal, passing the Ibis Hotel on the way. A crash gate can be found next to a small car park, close to the stored Air Transat TriStar. You can park here or walk from the terminal in around 20 minutes. You can get good views here if aircraft are using runways 35L/R.



Marseille Provence Airport


marseille st charles to airport

One of the top five busiest airports in France, Marseille is a focus for Air France and its partners, and also for Ryanair which offers plenty of low-cost links. Other major European airlines are also regulars, and there is a Eurocopter facility at the airport.

Cargo flights are common, with ASL and DHL the busiest. Aircraft usually park on remote stands in front of the passenger terminal.

On the western side of the airport, directly across from the terminals, you may see a retired Dassault Mercure and Sud Aviation Caravelle. You can get closer to these aircraft if you have a car by following Route de la Plage from nearby Marignane.

There is a raised area close to the end of runway 31R which can be reached by car or on foot. Turn right out of the terminal and follow the perimeter for about 20 minutes. If driving, follow the D20 motorway south and exit for Marignane. You can park by the side of the road shortly after leaving the motorway. This spot is close to the military part of the airport, so beware of sensitivities.

Alternatively you can turn left out of the terminal and walk round for a view of the cargo and biz jet ramps.



Nice Côte d’Azur Airport

NCE | LFMNNice Airport Spotting Hotel

This is the busiest airport in France outside Paris, catering for the busy Côte d’Azur which is a magnet for tourism. The airport has direct long-haul links with airlines such as American Airlines, Air Transat, Delta, Emirates, Qatar Airways and United Airlines. Meanwhile, most European and North African scheduled and low-cost carriers fly here. Nice is a hub for Air France and easyJet.

The proximity of the airport and its two parallel runways to the city means aircraft often make a spectacular curved departure to avoid overflying the beach which lies at the northern end of the airport. Therefore, most movements can be seen from the city, however other viewing locations are hard to come by.

You can walk to the busy executive aircraft parking areas north-east of the terminal, with views through the green mesh fence possible, but photography difficult.

Other areas for viewing aircraft are possible from around the entrance roads to the two terminals. Terminal 2 has a landside café with views.



Paris Charles de Gaulle


Charles de Gaulle is the busiest airport in France and one of the busiest in Europe in terms of passenger numbers and cargo handled. It is the main operating base for Air France, and a hub for easyJet. It handles flights from every corner of the globe, and is a major hub for FedEx.

The original Terminal 1 handles much of the non-Air France traffic at the airport. Air France and its partners use Terminal 2, along with easyJet. The basic Terminal 3 is used by low-cost and charter airlines. Large cargo facilities can be found to the west of both terminal areas, as well as Air France maintenance facilities.

Charles de Gaulle has four parallel runways – two to the north and two to the south; traffic can use any section regardless of which terminal it is destined for. Look out for a preserved Air France Concorde aircraft near Terminal 3.

Authorities have placed a ban on aircraft photography at Charles de Gaulle and Le Bourget airports, and can be less than welcoming to spotters, however it is possible to write and apply for a permit. Take the permit and letter with you to show to authorities if they question you.

Concorde Paris CDG

Preserved on poles near the taxiway at Paris CDG.

Spotting Locations

  1. Central Terminal Area
    What was once the go-to location at Charles de Gaulle has now been ruined by new building construction. Therefore this spot is only good for watching aircraft using the taxiway between the north and south areas, and not for photography. The spot is located alongside the Hilton hotel and train station between all three terminals, and easily reached by foot.
  2. Motorway Bridge
    A little to the west of the first spot, and closer to Terminal 1 is the motorway bridge. Follow the road underneath the taxiways to reach it. From here aircraft can be seen taxiing. It is fine for photography, but there are no views of Terminal 2.
  3. North Side
    A road runs along part of the northern runway 09L/27R. To reach it drive east through the Terminal 2 area and you’ll eventually reach the N1104 road. Head north around the airport until you come to a roundabout. Take the first exit onto Route de l’Arpenteur. Find a safe place to park alongside the road and enjoy the view of the runway (bring a ladder if you have one).
  4. South Side
    Again, following the road through the Terminal 2 area, when you reach the N1104 this time head south. Take the exit for the D84/Jully/Tremblay and Zone Cargo. At the roundabout take the first exit and follow the D84 along the length of the runway. Near the 08R end there is a small parking area and bike path, with a bridge over the TGV line. From here you have good views of arrivals on 08R or departures on 26L.



Paris Le Bourget


N44440 - Bombardier Global 7500 - LTN

Only a ten-minute drive, or 30 minute bus journey (line 350 or 351) from Charles de Gaulle, Le Bourget is an excellent diversion when in Paris. It handles many of the city’s executive jet traffic, and is also famous for the bi-annual Paris Air Salon. There are no scheduled services.

If you haven’t visited, the Musée de l’air et de l’espace is worth coming to the airport for. It has a huge collection of aircraft relating to French aviation history, including many prototypes and large airliners.

As with Charles de Gaulle, photography is not allowed without a permit.

Le Bourget Airbus A380

Le Bourget Airbus A380

Spotting Locations

  1. Central Road
    To log the many bizjets and props, walk or drive along the main road (Avenue de l’Europe) running from the terminal/museum between the long row of hangars, taking time to stop in between each one to log what is parked in front. This is best done on a weekday, and sometimes you will be moved on. At the end, past the main ramp and terminal area, is the Dassault maintenance area which usually has some interesting visitors parked outside.
  2. North Side
    With a car, drive north from the airport entrance and turn left onto the D317. Exit on to the D370 towards Gonesse. When you reach the second roundabout, turn left towards Bonneuil-en-France. At the centre of this village, turn left onto Rue du Pont Yblon and park when you reach the gate and the cemetery. Continue walking past the gate until you reach the airport fence. From here you have a good view of runway movements, and a distant view across the airport parking aprons.
  3. Dugny Store
    Whilst occasional open days are held, the storage location for the museum’s aircraft is usually only visible over the fence next to the cemetery in Dugny. From the terminal/museum drive past the exposition site and follow signs for Dugny, along the D50 and then the D114. At the roundabout in the town, take the first exit along Rue Normandie Niemen, and then left on to Rue Maurice Bokanowski. Turn right at the next round about and the cemetery is on your immediate right, with parking.



Paris Orly


Orly is the second busiest airport in both Paris and France and very much worth a visit (for now – Air France will likely remove most services soon), to see airlines like Air Caraibes, Air Corsica, Corsair International and French bee. Many other scheduled, charter and low-cost airlines use Orly which also wouldn’t be seen at Charles de Gaulle. Air Algerie and Royal Air Maroc have many daily flights.

Orly has two terminals – West and South. There is an official viewing location in the South Terminal which is adequate for viewing most movements. However, many photographers choose to move to various spots around the perimeter for better results.

The airport is easily linked to Paris and Charles de Gaulle by the road, bus and RER train network.


Spotting Locations

  1. South Terminal Observation Deck
    The South Terminal has an outdoor observation area which can be reached from within the terminal. This is a good location for logging most of the airport’s movements, and photography is possible (although south-facing and through glass). The deck is free to enter, opening from 6am in summer and 10am in winter, and often open as a smoking area through the night. If you find it closed, windows inside offer a reduced view.
  2. West Terminal
    Upstairs in the West Terminal are a number of windows around the food court which allow views over the aircraft gates.
  3. Runway 06
    Take the A106 away from the terminals towards Paris. Leave the motorway at Rungis and head along Rue Notre Dame. Turn left at the roundabout on to Rue de la Gare, which turns into the D167A. This eventually runs along the northern perimeter and around the end of runway 06. Turn left onto Rue des Mares Juliennes and park up. There are places to spot along the road, as well as along the cycle path which leads to a raised dyke.



Tarbes–Lourdes–Pyrénées Airport


Tarbes Lourdes Spotting

This airport is located on the road between Lourdes and Tarbes. It is not busy for airline traffic, with only easyJet, Ryanair and Volotea offering schedules. However, the airport sees a lot of seasonal flights, and Catholic pilgrimage flights.

The main draw for enthusiasts is the collection of stored aircraft on the opposite side of the runway to the terminal. These range from smaller airliners to large widebodies such as Boeing 777s and Airbus A340s. Many are ultimately scrapped, however Airbus will also occasionally place their demonstrator and development aircraft in short term storage here.

It is possible to see most of the stored aircraft from the car park outside the terminal. However, it is also possible to get closer by driving north from the terminal and then towards Ossun. Following side roads towards the stored aircraft you can get some views across the field, however later in the summer the crops can be tall and obscure the view.

Also explore the roads south from the terminal as more airliners are stored by the side of the taxiway.



Toulouse Blagnac


Toulouse Spotting Hill

Airbus A350 prototype seen from the hill.

The main draw of visiting Toulouse is the Airbus and ATR factories which churn out new aircraft destined for the far corners of the globe at an impressive rate. Their facilities sprawl over much of the airport site.

Airbus produces the A320neo, A321neo, A330neo, and A350 here.

Airbus and ATR movements can be relied upon most weekdays, with test flights of the latest aircraft off the production line operating regularly.

The north of the site is where the Aeroscopia museum is located, and tours can be taken of the production sites by booking at www.manatour.fr. This gives the opportunity to see aircraft on the production line. Photography is not allowed on tours, but logging and binoculars are fine.

Aside from manufacturing, Toulouse has a growing number of passenger links. Air France and easyJet are busiest, but you’ll see airlines from all over Europe here. Just south of the modern terminal building is the general aviation, cargo and executive aprons.

Toulouse Airbus Tours

The Aeroscopia Museum at Toulouse where Airbus tours depart.

Spotting Locations

  1. Spotting Hill
    A large hill exists on the western side of the airport which overlooks all movements on the runways, particularly in the 14L/R direction. Photography and logging are possible here. To reach the spot, head north from the terminal building on the motorway, but leave at the first exit and drive along D1 under the Airbus taxiways. At the end of the airport, turn left at the next two roundabouts and on to Avenue Latécoere. When the delivery centre comes into view, turn right up a narrow road. At the top of the hill turn right and then right again onto the rough ground. Be careful when the ground is muddy.
  2. Car Park
    On the southern perimeter amongst the Airbus side of the airport is a car park from which arrivals on runways 32L/R can be logged and photographed easily, and some of the Airbus ramps can be partially seen. From the main A624 motorway passing along the southern perimeter, take exit 2. Turn right at the roundabout where the Airbus entrance is and follow Chemin de la Crabe to a small roundabout. The second exit leads into the car park.
  3. Airport Café
    Inside the terminal building is a café on the second floor, with a walkway alongside the windows. It has views over the runways, taxiways, gates and the distant Airbus ramps. Photography is easy here, but restricted to aircraft closer to you and through glass.


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