There’s been a lot of technical stuff in recent weeks, like how to take stunning silhouette shots or the different ways to adjust images in Photoshop, so this time I would like to talk about an easily digestible topic, my favourite spotter place in Europe.
I clearly remember, that two and a half years ago, I saw a picture on the internet that had a big impact on me. It was a departing A380 with a snowy background and spotters in the foreground. I believe it’s worth to attach the photo what I am talking about:
Photo taken by Samir Schwarz.
I really love this image as it shows the size difference between the aircraft and the people. And it’s also amazing that you can get this close to the planes! In consequence, I and my boyfriend decided to visit Zurich Airport (ZRH) last July.
Originally we wanted to fly with Swiss from Budapest, but after a bit of research, I found a much cheaper flight from Debrecen International Airport to Basel. Debrecen is located approximately 200km away from Budapest, so when the time came we just jumped into our car and drove down there. Currently, it has a very small passenger terminal which mainly serves low- cost airlines and seasonal charter flights. Our flight to Basel took around 1.5 hours with a wonderful view of the Alps. Luckily we were sitting on the right side of the plane, so we could admire some very rare aircraft such as Morocco Government 747, Mid East Jet 757, PAB AirWing A320, Republique Gabonaise 777, etc. before landing at Basel – Mulhouse – Freiburg – Euro Airport.
After leaving the terminal building we took a bus to the city centre, from where we can get to Zurich. From Basel city centre our original plan was to go by train. However, when I wanted to buy the train tickets from the self-service machine, the price was much more expensive what I saw on the internet at home. Suddenly, my feet rooted to the ground. That’s not what I expected. This ticket machine was in the middle of a huge hall, with no assistance around. So I went to find a human being who could possibly help us. Thankfully I found the train company’s office in the building, where they said the ticket what I saw on the internet is only valid for those passengers who have a special travel card. Damn!
I didn’t want to buy the tickets that cost approximately 80 euros. I felt there had to be a cheaper option, so started to search alternatives on the internet. Gladly I found a bus service whose nearest stop was only a 5-minute walk from the train station and due to leave in 30 minutes. Brilliant! By the time we got there, the bus was already at the bus stop. We asked the driver if we could buy a ticket from him, and he said sure, it’s 27 euros for 2 people. Woooow! It sounds better! The journey took 90 minutes to Zurich Airport and during that time we could admire the beauty of the Swiss landscape.
Our hotel was approximately 20 minutes walk from the airport. We went into our room, had dinner and got prepared for next day’s spotting session. Maybe it’s worth to mention, that they have different plug sockets like in other European countries, so we should bring an adapter or buy one at the Terminal if needed.
The next morning we started the day on the Observation Deck B, which is located next to Check-in 2, just follow the signs in the Terminal building. Please note, that all visitors need to go through a security check prior entry.
- Suitcases larger than 40x60x20cm are not allowed on the visitor terrace.
- However, if we have bigger items, we can place them in the lockers. They work with coins (2 CHF) that we get back when we unlock them.
- Food and drinks can be taken to the Observation Deck. Though, if we feel thirsty or hungry we can find a restaurant called Aviolino on the terrace.
- Opening times have changed recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, check the airport website for more information.
- Entrance fee is 5 CHF for adults and 2 CHF for children.
The airport has three runways with directions of 16/34, 14/32 and 10/28. For most of the time in most circumstances, they use rwy 14 for landings and rwy 16 also 28 for departures. However, they have a schedule for runway usage:
- From Monday to Friday between 06.00-07.00 anikokld on Saturday and Sunday between 06.00-09.00 they use rwy 34 for landings and rwy 28 and 32 for take-offs.
- From Monday to Friday between 07.02-21.00 and on Saturday and Sunday between 09.02-20.00 they use rwy 14 for landings and rwy 28 and 16 for take-offs.
- From Monday to Friday between 21.00-23.59 and on Saturday and Sunday between 20.00-23.59 they use rwy 28 for landings and rwy 32 and 34 for take-offs.
Observation Deck B offers a great view to departures from rwy 16 and taxiing/parking planes at stands around Terminal A and B. Thankfully the terrace is only partly glazed, so visitors can have a clear sight without any reflections. I would say that we need two different lenses for the observation deck. A telephoto lens for takeoffs and a wide-angle or kit lens for taxiing/parking aircraft. The light is good throughout the day, from 9-19 in the summer and from 10-17 in the winter.
I still remember when we got there, the first plane what I saw was an Edelweiss A340. She was parking at her stand, only a few meters away from us. I have to admit I’ve never seen an A340 so close. It was amazing! Then we walked around the terrace, looking at the possibilities. The first few hours we were so excited. The planes kept coming and going all of the time, so we had to be quick to change lenses. Indeed, after a while, we took photos only of the most interesting aeroplanes. Luckily the weather was really good all day long with no clouds on the sky. Thankfully we managed to capture some really nice shots with condensation and vortex.
The stands around the Observation Deck used by Schengen flights mainly, while the non-Schengen flights park around Observation Deck E. Basically we spent the whole day there, and really enjoyed it. The only disadvantage of this spot is the heathaze what APU’s can cause.
The next day we went to the Observation Deck again, as we planned before. The weather was beautiful, much nicer than we expected. After having lunch at Aviolino, we went back to the hotel to relax a bit, because our legs hurt a lot. After a quick refreshment we went to the Heligrill to find the place that really impressed me. However, we were almost certain that it’s already gone. Unfortunately, we had to realize that we were right. Despite that, we took some shots, cause it is a really cool place. There are some holes in the fence or we can climb up the hill. This spot is good for rwy 16 and 28 departures. It’s amazing that we can see how the heavies rotate nearly in front of us. This spot requires a telephoto lens with at least 200mm, and light is good in the afternoons.
On our last day we woke up very early and started our spotting session in the P3 car park, which is a great spot for arrivals on rwy 34 in the mornings between 6 and 7am. To find this location, just follow the signs in the Terminal says P3. If we go up to the higher floors, we can take some nice images. However, as I remember there is a mesh on the top floor, so the 9th floor is probably a better choice then. Although this spot is mainly used for arrivals, we can also see some taxiing and parking aircraft on the ground. The light is good between spring and autumn only, and recommended lens should be about 100-400mm.
After 7 am we went to buy some food. There is a great supermarket in the Terminal building called Migros. I love this shop because we can get whatever we want here, not like in small supermarkets at certain airports. After having breakfast, we went to the Observation Deck again for a few hours before we had to fly home.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to discover all of the spots around the airport. ZRH Airport was love at first sight, so we went back to WEF2020… Thanks for taking the time to read this article!