Look out for this article I wrote in an upcoming edition of Airliner World:
Auckland International is where “New Zealand touches the world”, and because of this, there is a huge variety of air traffic at my local airport. Last year alone, the airport served over 11.2 million passengers to the county’s biggest city, so as you can image, it’s a perfect place to watch all the busy aircraft movements.
Located at the bottom corner of the Pacific Ocean, and being the main airport for one of the most far removed counties on the planet, you can expect to see many big carriers such as Thai, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Malaysian Airlines, Cathay Pacific and of course Air New Zealand, all making regular visits to NZAA tarmac, as well as plenty more smaller domestic airlines that service the country.
Thanks to this, Auckland is an aviation photographer’s paradise, with a beautiful natural view of the Manuaku Harbor and Waitakere Ranges in the background, contrasting the heavy man-made metal giants up close.
The variety of aircraft that arrive at Auckland is also quite special, with the unique landscape of New Zealand requiring a number of different aircraft types with different abilities to service the provincial regions that have difficult accessibility. For example Air New Zealand, the county’s flag carrier who are based at NZAA, operate everything from Beechcraft 1900D’s and Bombaidier Q300’s through to Boeing 777’s and 747’s. Other interesting aircraft include Britten Norman BN-2 Islanders operated by Great Barrier Airlines, who also fly the only BN-2A Mk III Trislander in the southern hemisphere, on their Auckland route. Another rare aircraft that is popular over Auckland skies is the 50 year old Convair 580, with numerous variants of the aircraft serviced by Air Chathams, Field Air and Air Frieght NZ.
At the moment, there is only a single runway in use, being 23L (23R is a taxiway but can be used in an emergency) and 5R, that has recently been widened to accommodate the Airbus A380, that will soon become a regular visitor. The AIAL (Auckland International Airport Limited) have recently released plans to build an entire new runway on the other side of airport complex (currently farmland), with an upgraded international terminal and a new domestic terminal, which should hopefully attract more plane spotters to the area.
The AIAL have also taken into account aviation enthusiast’s hobby of Plane Spotting by creating a purposely built carpark, on Puhinui Drive, facing the threshold of runway 23L (which is primarily used over runway 5R), allowing you to park up whenever you want and get up close with the heavy metal giants as they descend into land, presenting many great opportunities for photographs.
Unlike other places, the lookout always seems to be busy whatever time of the day you arrive, although it is quieter in the early morning when I like to make my appearances, as the low sun creates some brilliant reflections of the planes’ metallic bodies.
It is quiet a nice atmosphere actually, with free picnic facilities adjacent to the carpark, and just as many families out for a spot of lunch, as there are the hardcore plane-spotter-with-scanner-in-hand stereotypes, thanks to the lovely views of the harbor.
In the first few weeks that I visited the airport with my camera, I always enjoyed going to the lookout, but after view images of landing aircraft at NZAA on the net, I found that other photographers had taken their shots from the complete opposite angle from me- very close up too, from what looked like inside the airport- airside.
So, the next time I got down to the airport, I still parked at the lookout, but decided to stroll down the road a bit into the industrial complex, where all the freight and maintenance hangers are located.
As this airport is not all that big or security conscious compared to the likes of Heathrow and LAX, I soon found a muddy stretch of grass adjacent to a side road, and once I followed it to the end, I found a flimsy metal fence bordering the runway 23R taxiway. I couldn’t believe the position, and all of a sudden I heard a roar of an engine and a great big 767 taxied past me so close by, that I could see the pilots face through the cockpit window.
What was even better, was that just after the aircraft passed me, it turned to the right, and held in position as it requested takeoff clearance, turned a bit more, then revved up the engines and shot off into the distance. From this spot, I got photographs from every different angle I could wish for, with the only downside being the taste of engine fuel on the tip of my tongue, and not being able to hear a word of ATC chatter on my scanner thanks to the powerful noise of the nearby jet engines.
Ever since that day, I have been glued to this secluded corner of Auckland Airport, and now every time I visit, I feel excited to know that I will be only a few meters away from the airplanes I dream about. Not only do they taxi and takeoff right in front my nose, but I also get some excellent shots of the landing aircraft, whos wheels touch the ground directly in my line of sight, again just meters away- a much better perspective than back at the lookout.
The only downside to photographing from here is when the prevailing winds switch direction and force inbound and outbound aircraft to use the 05R runway as the active. In this case, no aircraft taxis pass my spot and by the time they are airbourne, they are already a good few hundred feet skywards which doesn’t make a very good photograph unless your camera had a nifty zoom lens.
The lookout carpark has an even worse view on these days, but there is another option for you to get up close with the aircraft thanks to the good old AIAL again. Above the departures hall at the international terminal, there has been a purposely built indoor observation deck that is free to access to the general public (although RF scanners are not permitted inside). From this view, almost as high up at the ATC tower, you can look down upon the airside gates on the apron and see the aircraft parked up really close. You can also see the queue at the end of 05R and the landing aircraft touching down directly in front of you once again.
Rather than plane spotters and aviation enthusiasts, this lookout is usually full of individuals waving off there relatives as they depart from the gate, but is still perfect for people like me on days when the weather isn’t so great. Even if you don’t have a camera, there are some permanent strong binoculars set up (which you have to pay to use), so no matter who you are and what you are trying to see, you can always get a great close up view of the aircraft at Auckland International.
By Andrew Underwood
Very interesting CT, I'll be looking out for it, congradulations to you for making it into the magazine! 👍
Great work CT ❗ ❗
What issue will it appear in, October?
....and also whereabouts, in the planespotting feature near the end?
Good job CT, congrats!!
I enjoyed that CT, thanks. Could imagine being there, very well composed. Congrats, and hope you reap some rewards....
Here it is, a little trimmed down from my original, but still there none the less on page 72:
Good Job 👏
i'll check it out today - my local WH Smiths has 11 different aviation mags!