Across the United Kingdom there are hundreds of airports and airfields of all sizes and shapes. Some are busy airliner hubs, while others buzz with light aircraft, helicopters or even wartime bombers.
Visiting these places can be a really special day out for an aviation enthusiast.
If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out these unique airports and airfields!
The Busiest for Airliners
Heathrow Airport is by far the most famous airport in the UK, and a draw for aviation enthusiasts and plane spotters from all over the world.
Event after Covid-19, it is still a busy airport with a great mix of airlines from around the world.
Naturally it is a hub for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, but you’ll find lots of aircraft big and small.
There are some great spotting locations, and some world-famous spotting hotels, to use which make it an all-round good place to spot.
The Busiest for Helicopters
Aberdeen in northern Scotland is a busy helicopter hub.
The presence of the oil and gas industry in the nearby North Sea makes this the point from which hundreds of workers come and go every day, using helicopters to reach rigs.
Aberdeen is also a busy regional airport, seeing airliners coming from all over the UK and Europe.
The Airport Built on a Dock
Developed at the heart of London’s developing Docklands in the 1980s, London City is truly unique.
Where ships from all over the world once berthed, offloading their cargoes, is now a runway handling airliners from all over Europe (and until recently as far as North America).
The compact nature means the airport is relatively small, with a short runway. And the presence of skyscrapers all around means aircraft need to perform a steeper approach to landing.
The Airfield Where WWI Aircraft Fly
This former wartime bomber base in Lincolnshire began life in 1937 and saw lots of important raids on Germany.
It was even briefly home to the 617 ‘Dambusters’ squadron.
After World War II Coningsby remained an active base with lots of different aircraft based. Today it is home to a Eurofighter Typhoon squadron.
However, most famous is the presence of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight – a squadron of heritage aircraft like the Spitfire, Hurricane, Lancaster, Dakota and Chipmunk.
These aircraft perform at airshows and events every year. But if you come to Coningsby you can visit their hangar and get up close to them. See https://www.raf.mod.uk/display-teams/battle-of-britain-memorial-flight/
The Airport on a Beach
Another famous airport on the bucket list of many aviation enthusiasts is Barra.
This airport, on an island off the western coast of Scotland, is the world’s only airport to see scheduled airline flights that land on a beach.
This strip of wide sand is the only place where aircraft can safely land on the island, and schedules on the twice-daily Loganair flights from Glasgow are dictated by the tide times!
[Barra Beach Landing Experience – Video] https://studio.youtube.com/video/n9zzJ7x296o/edit
The Airfield Where Early Days of Flying is Kept Alive
Home to the Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden is a fascinating and historic airfield to visit.
Located near Bedford, this airfield has grass runways and experiences the sound of old radial and piston engines bashing the skies overhead.
The Shuttleworth Collection comprises some of the oldest flying machines found anywhere in the world, including the oldest on the British register (Bleriot XI G-AANG) and many more.
You can visit the collection during their open times (see https://www.shuttleworth.org/), or why not schedule a visit during one of their airshows where you can see many of the aircraft in flight?
The Busiest for Light Aircraft
Gloucestershire Airport is currently the UK’s busiest airport for general aviation traffic.
This airfield, located near Gloucester and Cheltenham in south west England, has seen sporadic airline flights through the years. But primarily, it is a base for light aircraft movements, training and executive movements.
The Airport with a Ghost Airport Next Door
Liverpool John Lennon
Liverpool today is a busy regional and international airport with a single runway along the banks of the River Mersey. It sees scheduled, low-cost and leisure flights all over the UK and Europe.
However, look on satellite images and you’ll see what looks like the remains of an airport just to the north west.
This is the original Speke Airport, which served Liverpool until the new runway and terminal were built in the 1960s and 1980s respectively.
Gradually the old site, and its Art Deco terminal were taken out of use and the site remained derelict. Today, however, it has seen a new business park and other users built over the former runways.
The terminal, however, remains. It is now a Crowne Plaza hotel. And on the former apron you’ll fine a collection of historic aircraft being restored – including a Bristol Britannia, BAe Jetstream 41 and HS.748.
There are of course many other interesting airports and airfields all over the UK.
These range from airliner hubs to light aircraft fields, and there really is something for everyone.
Airport Spotting Guides UK & Ireland
Our updated guide book, Airport Spotting Guides UK & Ireland (2nd Edition) covers all of the major airports, airfields and military aerodromes in the UK and Ireland.
Discover the best places to spot and photograph aircraft at each of them, with maps, directions and descriptions of what you might see.