|Last Updated on Friday, 13 December 2013 00:31|
Beijing's Capital Airport has rapidly ascended the rankings of the world's busiest airports, and currently comes in second. Over 500'000 aircraft movements per year and some well accessible photo spots make for an easy glimpse into Chinese and Asian aviation.
Please Note: This guide is compiled only from the experiences of a single two-day visit in fall 2012. I am by no means an expert on spotting at Beijing. The only motivation for providing this guide was that I couldn't find any other when I was researching information for my own trip. So if you do have additional information or own experiences, please share them and help to make this guide better! Use the feedback function at the bottom or contact me directly!
Is Planespotting allowed in China? According to local planespotters, it is not forbidden. Of course, you can always have bad luck with police, just like at any other airport in the world. On the upside, spotting in Beijing has become quite popular and is performed on a daily basis, both by locals and international visitors. This means that police has gotten used to the sight of planespotters and has seen that we pose no threat. So far, I haven't heard of any incidents between spotters and the police. Police is known to send illegally parked drivers away quite fast (see "Safety and Security" plus Spots 1A/2A below), yet have never bothered about spotters during their interventions. This suggests that spotting is officially tolerated at Beijing's airport.
This guide only deals with the northerly configuration (winds from the north), which is the predominant one during most months. And it's definitely the easier one for planespotting purposes, too.
Here's a graphic showing the fraction of time spent with various wind directions over the course of the year. As can be seen, northerly or northwesterly winds dominate especially in the time between autumn and early spring. More Beijing average weather data can be found over at weatherspark.com.
Runway and Terminal Usage
The three terminals are used as follows:
Terminal 1 (Domestic Chinese airlines):
Terminal 2 (Skyteam):
Terminal 3 (Star Alliance and OneWorld)
The splitting of traffic between the three parallel runways doesn't seem to follow any strict system. Generally, airlines occupying terminals 1 and 2 are rather found using the western and the center runway, while airlines occupying terminal 3 use the center and the eastern runway. What's more, to me it made the impression that the outer two runways are the ones primarily used for arrivals, while the center one works as an overflow landing runway during the busy peak times. On the other hand, the center runway seems to be the busiest departure runway, getting flights from both sides of the airport. The outer two runways are very often used for departures, too, though.
The China Southern A380s always seem to operate to and from the center runway. The Emirates and Lufthansa A380 usually use the eastern runway.
Generally I had the impression that the western and center runway tend to yield the more special and exotic arriving traffic (including most cargo arrivals), while traffic onto the eastern runway is dominated by hundreds of Air China B737 and other only too well known Star Alliance carriers.
Safety and Security
The area immediately around terminal 3 (the only one I visited) made a very clean, new, inviting and friendly impression. There are usually local airport workers walking out and about, but they don't seem to care too much about planespotters.
During our two days of spotting in fall 2012, we were also tolerated by the police, even when standing on the side of the road bridge leading up to Terminal 3's departure level for several hours (no sidewalk, see picture from Spot 1A). The police was frequently driving by, and even stopped to fine several Chinese drivers who parked their cars next to us to watch the airplanes. This was taking place a mere 20 meters from us, yet no policemen ever approached us or interacted with us in any way.
This leads me to believe that planespotting is tolerated by authorities as long as you don't interfere with the road traffic. Also, as local spotters point out, planespotting is not prohibited in China. Of course, this is always subject to change, possibly during high alert times, for example during the Communist Party's National Congress. Always be careful not to raise too much suspicion, and try not to leave a bad impression (especially at Spots 1A and 2A) so the spotters coming after you will find the same friendly conditions.
Terminal 3 Area Spots
Spots just outside of or within walking distance from the newly built Terminal 3 easily allow you to cover the center and the eastern runway (36R and 01) all day long.
Spot 1A/1B: Approach/Lineup Rwy 36R from outside Terminal 3
There are two easily accessable points from which arrivals onto Rwy36R and even line-ups can be photographed.
Spot 1A is located on the car ramp leading up to the departure level of terminal 3 (or more precisely, down from it again). The road is wide enough that you can walk away from the terminal along the railing to where you have an open view of arrivals. If you walk a bit further away from the terminal, you can even see aircraft lining up. Due to the long distance involved in this, heat haze can be a problem - especially if aircraft standing at a nearby gate have their APU running.
Spot 1B is located in a beautiful park with a lake, a 10 minute walk from the terminal (ground level), next to the Langham Place Hotel. Here, standard approach shots can be taken.
Spot 1C: Rwy 36R Afternoon Spot
A small hill inside the park located south of Rwy 36R allows views of planes lining up on this runway and approaching it.
Spot 2A/2B: Approach/Lineup Rwy 01 from outside Terminal 3
There are two easily accessable points from which arrivals onto Rwy01 and even line-ups can be photographed.
Spot 2A is located on the car ramp leading up to the departure level of terminal 3. The road is wide enough that you can walk away from the terminal along the railing to where you have an open view of arrivals. If you walk a bit further away from the terminal, you can even see aircraft lining up. Due to the long distance involved in this, heat haze can be a problem - especially if aircraft standing at a nearby gate have their APU running.
Spot 2B is located at a large parking lot mainly used for busses, a 10 minute walk from the terminal (ground level). Here, standard approach shots can be taken. You can either stand in the shade of the flyover road leading up to the terminal or inside the parking lot.
Spot 2C: Approach Rwy 01 Morning Side
Walking eastwards along the main road running behind Rwy 01 (Siwei Road), you can position yourself for approach shots during the first half of the day.
Spot 3: Approach Rwy36L from the CITIC Hotel's rooms (formerly SinoSwiss)
At this good 3.5 star hotel a 10 minute drive from all terminals, the high floor rooms facing west offer a pretty decent view of Rwy36L arrivals. Unfortunately I failed to write down my room number, but over at plane-spotting-hotels.com (a good site to bookmark anyway) room #942 is reported to have good views. At least parts of the room's window can be slid open to allow unobstructed photography.
The photo angle is a *bit* steep, but manageable. Probably photos can also be had from the hotel grounds or the surroundings, however there are quite a few high trees that may block the view (not tried).
Spot 4: Apron/Taxiway Views from Terminal 2 airside
If you're flying from Terminal 2, check in early and proceed through security fast. Once you're airside, the windows offer views of the (sometimes interesting) aircraft parked at the gates. The southeastern "hammer head" is in a pretty good strategic position next to the main taxiway, where all planes heading from T1 and T2 to Rwy36R for takeoff must pass by.
Places to stay
Of course there are several hotels around Beijing Airport; pointed out below are three that I deem most useful for planespotting purposes. You find them marked green on the map above.
|Last Updated on Friday, 13 December 2013 00:31|