Business jets do not just give pleasure to the people that fly in them. Many people get a buzz just from just seeing a one.
Others take this passion more seriously. There are thousands of amateur aviation photographers (many as good as professionals) and planespotters looking to track down business jets.
Whilst most photographers just collect images, planespotters collect aircraft registrations or manufacturers serial numbers (MSNs) by seeing the aircraft. (You can usually work out the MSN from the aircraft registration, although this is hard in some countries.)
Aviation photographers are spread throughout the world. With the the US and Japan in particular seeming to have many good ones (Japan also deserves credit for encouraging enthusiasts, every airport has at least one viewing platform). Although there are planespotters in every country, it is most popular in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. No one knows exactly how many planespotters are in each country but there are specialist magazines and books serving the community.
Once you have seen the aircraft based at your local airport, you then decide to move to one a little further away. What can start as a fun hobby can easily become an expensive obsession. Many enthusiasts have travelled the world looking for aircraft. It can also be the start of a career. Many British, German and Dutch senior executives at manufacturers, maintenance companies and operators were attracted into the aviation by planespotting.
As an industry looking for supporters, business aviation should be doing more to encourage enthusiasts.
Picking the best business jet airport to view aircraft is impossible. But here are some fun ones to start with.
Teterboro, New Jersey, USA
No list would be complete without New York’s main business jet airport, Teterboro. The grand daddy of them all. Home to more private jets than anywhere else in the world, the fleet parked there are not attending an event, it is like that all the time. But that is not to say that the airport doesn’t get even busier: The first weekend in December see’s the airport even fuller than normal, as travellers fly in for Christmas shopping.
Security is tight and planespotters are not made to feel welcome
For the enthusiast, Teterboro can be difficult. Security is tight and planespotters are not made to feel welcome. Fortunately there is a well known chain hotel nearby that gives views of the approach (and Newark in-bounds if the wind is from the right direction).
Beijing makes the list not because of the amount of business jets there, but because it is the best place in the world to see B-registered private jets, which can be rather rare outside of China. Unfortunately they park all over the airport so it is not the easiest place to find jets.
At the last count, there were seven different places that business jets park, and that’s not including the slightly odd place a G450 was sticking out of on my last visit.
Arrival into the impressive terminal three affords good views of the CJET ramps in the bottom east of the airport, as well as anything else parked along that side of the airfield. Or at least as far as terminal two. Terminal two has it’s own parking area, which normally holds a few extra business jets, and to see this you have to head to the terminal, head out of the main door, and walk back down the car ramp.
Further up the field is the Gulfstream maintenance hangar, although this is shared with Hainan Airlines, and often only has one or two Gulfstreams inside along with a Hainan Airbus A330. The ramp outside, at both ends, normally holds one or two private jets.
Further up the field are the Deer Jet and CAAC flight inspection ramps. Both places are better viewed from the opposite side of the runway. From there you have the cargo area that normally holds the overseas visitors that are staying for a while, and the tour is complete with a visit to the Air China maintenance area, which normally holds the larger visiting bizliner types.
Beijing can be frustrating but it can be fun, especially when you’re trying to explain in your best Chinese exactly where you want a taxi driver to go. And why you want to go there.
Fortunately, once you’ve seen everything that’s at the airport, it is relatively easy to monitor new arrivals from several airport hotels. Unless of course the famous Beijing smog closes in and reduces the visibility.
Beijing’s other airport, Nanyuan, is an active government and air force base, although it does handle services by China United Airlines. The airport is the home to the Air Force’s LearJet 35s, and these are best attempted by flying into or out of the airport, rather than lurking around the secure airport perimeter.
The airport is however due to be ‘relocated’ in several years time as part of Beijing’s new airport development which will see a new airport being built in the southern district of Daxing.
Congonhas, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Brazil’s huge business jet fleet is spread out across the massive country, but a good number can be seen at Congonhas, Sao Paulo’s domestic airport.
The single runway here makes monitoring arrivals and departures easy, but the airport itself has seen a fall in executive movements in recent years as airports outside the city open themselves up to business jets.
Walking around the perimeter is also not recommend by locals.
To see every thing here can be hard work. Walking around the perimeter is also not recommend by locals.
But it can be rewarding, especially as Brazilian registered aircraft aren’t so commonly seen elsewhere. And as the airport is one of the busiest domestic airports in Brazil, it has the added bonus of seeing lots of local airliners.
The airports elevated position can also make this grueling. The walk around the perimeter includes walking up little hills, which is never easy in the Brazilian sunshine.
Sao Paulo’s main Airport, Guarulhos, handles the international flights. In the mornings and evenings it gets busy as flight to and from Europe and the US start to move. At other times it can be as dead as the bodies you may be unlucky to see in the rivers as you get the bus between airports.
Business jets do use Guarulhos though, and these are normally the overseas visitors. The last ime I visited there was an Algerian government delegation in town, who came with their various assortment of Gulfstream’s.
While Sao Paulo can be good, Rio can be a bit of a let down.
Toluca, Mexico City, Mexico
Every business jet enthusiast should make the pilgrimage to Toluca at least once. Visiting Mexico City used to be easy, but in the 1990’s the government decided to move all but government and military executive movements away from the main airport to free up slots for airliners.
The results saw an explosion in the numbers of business jets at Toluca Airport, which nowadays houses a large percentage of the Mexican business jet fleet.
Arrival by coach into Toluca town from Mexico City’s main airport requires a taxi journey to the airport. No problem, the armed guards stationed inside the bus station will open the heavily fortified gates for you and see you safely on your way.
Toluca can be kind, or she can be painful
Another frustrating airport, Toluca can be kind, or she can be painful. To get the most out of the airport you need to knock on hangar doors and ask to be shown around. That’s not too easy in pigeon Spanish, especially when the combination of a long walk, Mexico City’s high altitude and searing summer sun takes its inevitable toll on you.
Still, the airport offers an irresistible mix of aircraft that can’t be seen easily elsewhere. Mexican registered aircraft are, in Europe at least, somewhat of a rarity, so being able to see them at their homebase, rather than chasing them around, is a big enough pull to make enthusiasts keep returning.
The main problem though is that the Mexican’s guard their civil aircraft register closer than any other registry out there. Matching a local Mexican registration to an airframes manufacturers serial number can take months, or even years.
Le Bourget, Paris, France
If you were to add all of the movements at all of the London airports together, then add in the movements from the Ryaniar-esq airport’s that like to prefix themselves with London but aren’t actually in London, then the UK capital would rate highly on anybody’s list of must visit places to see executive jet movements.
But despite this, Le Bourget has something that London doesn’t, and that’s enough to make this airport a must visit airport for enthusiasts.
Gulfstream may have Luton Airport as a service centre but Falcon’s can almost call Le Bourget home, and it’s here that they return for major maintenance.
A visit to Le Bourget will reveal a bevy of exotically registered Falcons
A visit to the airport at any point of the year can reveal a bevy of exotically registered Falcons receiving re-work in the Dassault facility, the so called ‘Roundhouse’ at the top end of the field.
But it’s not just Dassault that are in residence at the airport, Embraer has their European headquarters a short drive from the airport, and Cessna has a large maintenance facility at the airport, although the opening of the new service centre in Valencia Spain has cut down the number of Citation visitors here.
Of course, most of the French registered business jet fleet also calls Le Bourget home, and apart from a small amount of visitors that use Charles de Gaulle or Orly, the airport receives the majority of visitors to the Paris area. And with the French connections to Africa, they can be exotic.
Fortunately, most aircraft here are relatively easy to see aside from those tucked away in hangars. It can be a long walk though, especially during the bi-annual Paris Air Show, when the temperatures can get quite high. It’s often very rewarding though, turning a corner can reveal anything from a French registered Citation Mustang, to an Algerian Gulfstream IV, to a Namibian registered Falcon 7X and a San Marino registered Falcon 50.
Lanseria, Johannesburg, South Africa
Talking about Africa, there are few airports in the world can get close to the sheer variety of exotic registrations on display at Lanseria Airport, just outside Johannesburg. And the good news is that they are mostly easy to see, and photograph.
This is one of those rare airports that actively welcomes enthusiasts
This is one of those rare airports that actively welcomes enthusiasts, well, most of the airport does. It’s here that you’ll find the old and the good, with a number of re-work companies at the airport patching up old LearJet’s, and even older Hawker 125s. It can get confusing if you down know your registration prefixes though, as not only does the airport handle executive jets, they also look after smaller regional airliners. You can therefore walk past a South African ZS- registered LearJet 45, then a Swaziland registered 3D- McDonell-Douglas MD-83 and end up at a Republic of Congo TN- Falcon 7X.
And if that’s not enough you can pop in to the nearby lion park after you’ve had your fill of aircraft.
Interstate 95, Florida, US
Although not actually an airport, there are few places in the world that has as much of a pull as a 70 mile stretch of south Florida’s I95. With Miami’s, and to a lesser extent the rest of Florida’s, connections with Latin America, dotted along the journey, from Miami to Palm Beach, are several airports that are guaranteed to set the heart racing with a list of exotically registered aircraft.
From the starting point of a hotel overlooking Miami Airport itself, it’s a short drive to Opa Locka airport, where a slow drive around the perimeter reveals a bewildering array of aircraft registered in places that you might not even know exist.
From Opa, it’s a short journey up to the two airports in Ft. Lauderdale, International first, then Executive.
Ft. Lauderdale International, a fully fledged international airport in it’s own right, with direct services to London amongst other places, is home to Bombardier and Embraer facilities. Although Embraer’s main US presence is further up the I95 in Melbourne, the facility at Ft. Lauderdale International still a stop over port from Embraer aircraft delivering from Brazil to elsewhere. The Bombardier facility should be good for a few as well, although seeing into their hangar can be tricky, but the rest of the airport should make up for it, with normally a few Mexican registered aircraft knocking around.
Fort Lauderdale Executive can only be described as a nooks and crannies airport.
Which takes us nicely onto Fort Lauderdale Executive, which can only be described as a nooks and crannies airport.
Home to numerous repair shops, the largest of which being Banyan Air Service, Executive is home to numerous older aircraft, as well as aircraft being repaired. You’re likely to see anything here, from a brand new Gulfstream G650, to a Venezuelan Rockwell Sabreliner with a stencilled on registration, this airport always holds a few surprises.
While Executive can take a while, Boca Raton, the next airport up the I95, is always good for a quick visit. Especially as the golf buggy rent-a-cops are keen to move you on quickly. Boca might not be as large as the other airports, or hold as many aircraft but it’s charm is that it’s normally pretty easy to read everything off, especially as you can be back on the I95 again 15 minutes after coming off.
The normal end of the tour is at West Palm Beach, home to the rich and famous. Friday afternoon’s in February can see a steady stream of Gulfstream’s, Global’s and Falcon’s arrive at this airport, as the well heeled arrive for winter weekend getaways.
For the adventurous, there are a few other stopping points, although it stretches the start and end points. Rather than starting in Miami, the small Tamiami Airport just to the south of Miami itself often has a few older aircraft being worked on, while to the north of West Palm Beach the Embraer facility at Melbourne can have a few new locally produced Phenom’s knocking around outside. And if your feeling even more adventurous you can stop in on Pompano Beach between Ft. Lauderdale and Boca Raton, although the returns often aren’t quite worth the detour.
Even if you are not interested in the sports themselves, sporting events can be unique opportunities to spot aircraft.
In the US, the American football Superbowl is one of the most popular events for business jet owners. Aside from this there are smaller events that also draw big crowds of private jets visitors. The Kentucky Derby, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) final four and golf in Augusta are always guaranteed to see many visitors.
Outside of the US the amount of visitors to sporting events are limited, although big global events like the Olympics and the football world cup see a good amount of private jet movements.
In Europe, the final of the football Champions League can be good, although the numbers of visiting aircraft is nowhere near as large as the Superbowl. It can of course also depend on who is in the final – a game between teams from Turkey and Italy is bound to bring more interesting visitors than teams from the UK and France.
Other sports may surprise you. The May 2015 fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao in Las Vegas even garnered mainstream press coverage for the amount of private jets that flew in for the flight. When India and Pakistan played each other during the 2012 World Cricket Cup, India’s Chandigarh Airport handled 130 business jet flights in one day. It normally sees six aircraft.
Business jet airshows like NBAA, EBACE and ABACE are worth attending, even if you are not in the business of business aviation. There is an opportunity to see new types before customer deliveries start as well as others brought in by brokers.
The airports where NBAA (which moves around) and EBACE (always Geneva) are held also normally receive a good amount of visitors flying in for none show reasons. If you fly back on a low-cost carrier from the UK to EBACE (especially the cheapest late night flight) you will see lots of enthusiasts.
The problem with shows, especially when it comes to taking photographs, is that people often get in your way, oblivious to the fact that you’re trying to take a picture. And then they stay there. And then they start messing round on their phones …
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