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The life of a plane spotter


Matt Purton, Commercial Jet Sales Director, has been an aviation enthusiast for a long time, having criss-crossed the globe in search of some of the best places to spot planes. He shares with us his favourite spots for plane spotting.

Most people imagine plane spotters, or aviation enthusiasts as they prefer to be known, as an odd bunch of characters. Armed with note books and thermos flasks, wearing anoraks and standing by the side of airport runways in the pouring rain, they stand, waiting for the same planes to land day after day. The truth, however, is that modern day watchers of planes have become a little more tech savvy and travel to destinations far and wide to enjoy their pursuit. Smart phones with apps enabling them to watch aircraft in real time sit alongside digital cameras and zoom lenses that would put most paparazzi to shame. Tipped off by spotting email groups they now know when and where the newest or rarest planes will be touching down and so travel has increasingly become a part of the hobby.

Myrtle Avenue near Heathrow
Myrtle Avenue near Heathrow
Observation deck at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Observation deck at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

Anyone driving down the A30 from London past Heathrow airport would probably not even spare a glance for the group of people gathered to the left of the arterial two lane highway. This band of hardy souls, corralled in a small park just past Hatton Cross tube station, gather daily to watch the comings and goings at London’s busiest hub airport.

In addition to the big airports like Heathrow where it's expected to see spotters, low fare airlines selling cheap day returns to European hubs like Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Copenhagen offer the chance to go and watch planes in purpose built terraced facilities. Until its closure in the early 2000s Gatwick’s viewing terrace was the 3rd most visited tourist attraction in South East England. But attitudes to spotters vary from country to country.

Delta Air Lines Boeing 767-300, Las Vegas
Delta Air Lines Boeing 767-300, Las Vegas
Pokemon livery on a Nippon Airways Boeing 777-300, Tokyo
Pokemon livery on a Nippon Airways Boeing 777-300, Tokyo

In America, spotting areas are quite common, normally around the boundary of the airfield or in purpose built parks. Dallas, Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Las Vegas are well known for being able to combine the great outdoors with the smell of jet fuel. In Atlanta, the world’s busiest airport by movements (take off and landings), the Renaissance airport hotel has been built with balconies facing the airports five runways. On a good day over 1000 different planes can be seen coming and going and it's so popular that they now charge a premium for the best views of the action.

In Japan not just the big airports in Tokyo and Osaka, but smaller regional airports have multiple viewing decks, facing runways and terminals. These decks are often packed and have become the destination for family days out, with everything from beer and ice cream to hats and plane themed t-shirts available.

Corsair Airlines Boeing 747-400, Maho Beach, St Maarten
Corsair Airlines Boeing 747-400, Maho Beach, St Maarten
Retired planes
Retired planes

Of course spotters have dream destinations, a kind of plane spotting bucket list and Saint Maarten is usually at the top of that list. Lying in the Caribbean, it is home to the legendary Maho Beach which is located right by the runway, allowing 747's to land just metres over your head. It allows plane geeks to sit in the beach bar, or on the sand and watch the action, while the family play in the water. With a plentiful supply of cold drinks it's become a must for most. Another must is Boracay Island in the Philippines. It’s a hair-raising approach with exotic aircraft coming in at just a few feet off the main road before landing. Another bucket list favourite is to rent a small plane or helicopter and fly over the airplane grave yards of America, looking down on retired planes parked on remote desert strips.

If you’re looking to spot aircraft, why not charter a private jet to one of the many locations listed in our guide to plane spotting or alternatively take a look at our aircraft guide to see just what we can offer.

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