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International Jet setter?

This term suggests high expense long distance travel by air. Well it is possible to make worthwhile visits to five airports, in three countries, in just one day! Just for the cost of a cheap low cost airfare, a couple of nights accommodation and car hire!

Having arrived at Charleroi / Brussels south the day before my friend and I were up early to make our way to Belgiums main airport (IATA: BRU, ICAO: EBBR) for around 8AM. BRU is the base for the home airline Brussels Airlines and hub for TUI carrier Jetairfly and cargo outfit DHL. Brussels National Airport shares its runways with the Belgian AirForce operating its Embraer 135 and Airbus A321 transport aircraft along with Lockheed C130 Hercules from the Melsbroek Air Base situated north of the runway system and terminals and adjacent to runway 25R/07L.

Belgian Air Force C130

In 2017 nearly 25 million passengers passed through Brussels National up nearly 1.5 million on the previous year as well as enjoying an increase in its cargo total to over 535,000 tonnes. Add to that the regular meetings of the worlds heads of state at the United Nations and all this means is that its great place to see a good mix of both passenger and freight aircraft with a regular smattering of government and biz jets. Brussels Airlines in itself have a number of reasons for visiting from the special liveried Airbus A320s to the use of the Sukhoi Superjet in both its own livery and that of the lessor, Cityjet.

Brussels national red devils a320

brussels airlines SSJ100

Foreign operators in addition to what might be termed the normal American, European, Far and Middle East regulars range from Georgian Airways, FlyEgypt and Hainan Airlines to what are probably the two stars of the show .The twice weekly A320s from Qeshm Air of Iran and a throw back to the old Belgian colonial days, Rwandair operating Airbus A330s three to four times per week depending on the season.

Rwandair A330

Viewing Areas

Brussels has a vast range of both official and unofficial areas from which to both spot and photograph the comings and goings. Prevailing winds tend to bring arrivals from the east, landing mainly on runway 25L although freighters and military movements almost always land on 25R alongside departures due to the proximity of the cargo and military centres to that runway. The crosswind runway 19/01 is also used for occasional departures.

The two official purpose built sites are situated at the thresholds of 25L and 01. Both have free parking areas although the 01/19 platform is about a seven minute walk from there with the 25L/07R being much closer. These areas have multi height platforms to enable photographs over the perimeter fence and being situated essentially south of the action has the sun on your back for a lot of the day. During our visit landings were on 25L and therefore this is where we spent the majority of our stay.

Brussels airlines Smurfs A320

Carpatair F100

Directly opposite this area is where the Equatorial Congo Airlines (EC Air) Boeing 757 is currently stored. Photographs are perfect here for arrivals and movements on the far runway are also visible as are aircraft taxying around many of the apron areas. However if you were to spend more time here there are areas all-around the airfield as well as in the inner airport area. The Wingtips restaurant on the departures level of the terminal check in area looks out over the central cul de sac between the two piers with the top floor of car parks one and three having views over the cargo ramp and remote/commuter stands respectively. Further out around the perimeter there are places offering views and photographic opportunities for arrivals on 25L.

EC Air 757

Freight dogs

Having spent over two and a half hours mainly at the two official spots it was time to move on to the next destination, Liege. It took about 50 minutes to travel the 55miles (89km) to this airfield (IATA: LGG, ICAO: EBLG) in the east of the country. Best known as a freight hub it isn’t the best for taking photographs and does not have an official viewing area. That said there are a few places where the action can be photographed although it does require a little walk and leaving the car on rough ground by the roadside. With aircraft using R22L there are two spots which enable photos to be taken of aircraft on short finals and landing as well as lining up for take off. Also if you are lucky there may be an aircraft or two parked on stands 11-14 in what is best described as a lay-by adjacent to the taxiway and close to the line up point for R22L Shots here are through a fence so care needs to be taken to avoid getting the wires in shot.

Western Global MD11F

Ethiopian 777F

Liege is a hub for FedEx and it’s fleet of Boeing 737s, which are operated by ASL Airlines, are visible whilst driving around the airfield. It is also possible to photograph the occasional one, although with double fences a lot of the time not necessarily too successfully. Other operators with a hub there or regularly using the airport and therefore possible to see on any trip around the perimeter are Ethiopian Cargo, CAL Cargo, Western Global, ABC Cargo, Icelandair Cargo and Qatar Airways Cargo.

Having driven the length of the airfield on the south side, passing by the purpose built Equine transport facility, you will find yourself at a large patch of rough ground where movements onto R04 can be seen as well as the odd aircraft perhaps less visible from other viewpoints. There is very little in the way of viewpoints on the north side although the freight apron at the North West corner of the airfield is possible to view with a quick walk up a small hill.

Liege is the biggest cargo hub in Belgium and in the top ten of European cargo centres handling over 30,000 metric tonnes (30M kg)of freight each month and 3000 horses every year.. Not surprising perhaps as it is situated right in the centre of what is termed the golden triangle, made up of Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt which sees 66% of European freight transiting through it. Open 24 hours a day the airport sees on average 90 flights each night moving freight. Liege is not purely cargo however with TUI operating to over 20 destinations on a mainly charter basis.

It takes about 30 minutes to have a good look around the site and at about midday it was time to make for our next destination and the first border crossing.

Welcome to the Netherlands

Just 31 miles (50km) and 35 minutes later we are arriving at the Dutch airport of Maastricht or to give it its full title of Maastricht Aachen airport (IATA: MST, ICAO: EHBK). It is situated 3 miles (5km) northeast of Maastricht and 9 miles (15km) northwest of Aachen in Germany. Like Liege there is a passenger terminal with flights to regular Southern European sunspots with Airlines such as Corendon, Ryanair and Enter Air. However the main operation here is again mainly freight. This facility is the second largest freight hub in the Netherlands after Amsterdam although this time without a large presence from a single operator. Regular freight operators range from Emirates Cargo to points in the US, Africa and South America in addition their Dubai home. Sky Gates Boeing 747s from points in Russia (there were two present during our 20 minute stay) to Cargolux and Air Bridge Cargo often with Boeing 747-8 There is also an MRO and paint facility here with a number of stored aircraft around the airfield including dhc 8s of Heli Malongo Air and Yakutia as well as an Afghan Jet International Canadair/Bombardier CRJ200.

In addition there is a Dutch Air Force facility. Like most paint shops what might be seen here is endless but also quite intermittent given the nature of the work with an aircraft taking anything up to ten days to complete. There is a viewing terrace here from where most movements can be noted but it is better to drive around the airfield if you wish to see the stored aircraft and to get photographs of cargo aircraft on stand or on the runway.

There is a spot which overlooks Apron Delta and the runway giving good views of landing or departing aircraft depending on which runway is in use. It is also southeast of the runway and therefore pretty good for photographs and also one place where photos of stored aircraft are possible. It is relatively easy to park your car just off the road along this area and as it is unlikely that you will be there too long it is unlikely to attract the attention of the security services, in fact during the short stay a number of people came and went along this area so it is clearly a favourite spot.

Sky Gates 747F

Given the position of aircraft present on our visit we spent the majority of our time here. Unless something is on the way in then it does not take much time to see and photograph everything, so just 20 minutes after we arrived we were on our way again. Maastricht is not an airport to spend a lot of time at and it must be said a little bit of planning is probably required to increase the possibility of seeing something interesting in addition to the stored aircraft.

New Destination - New Country

The next stop on our tour of Europe is in yet another country. The German city of Düsseldorf is situated in the west of the country and takes us 70 minutes to travel the 63 miles (101km) from Maastricht, albeit with some traffic delays. Interestingly en route we passed by the light aircraft field of Monchegladbach where It is possible to make a detour too if you want to make a more detailed visit. However the airfield and it’s stored BAe J31 painted in a multitude of rainbow colours is visible from the E52 road without any need for detour.

Düsseldorf is the state capital of North Rhine Westphalia, the airport (IATA:DUS, ICAO EDDL) is the third largest in Germany and is situated just 4 miles (7km) north of the city. It’s three terminals and two runways handled nearly 25 million passengers and 102,000 tonnes of freight on nearly 222,000 movements in 2017.

Although there are a number of possible sites around the airfield by far the best option is to head for the spectator terrace (the Besucherterasse). As it is now 2pm we were getting quite peckish so we did this after picking something up for lunch as the facilities on the terrace have reduced over the years. Another reason to buy food or drink beforehand at one of the many outlets means saving the need to go through security more than once which can be busy at times. It must be said that German airports in general have an excellent attitude towards viewing and although you need to pay €2.20 to gain entry as well as car parking fees (which vary from €3.50 to €5.00 per hour) in addition to going through security, the view is excellent and well worth the money. From the terrace it is possible to see the vast majority of the stands with the runway also in easy reach of a moderate zoom lens meaning that very little is missed.

Eurowings Mannshaftsairbus A320

Eurowings A330

Eurowings have a base here so all their types can and almost certainly will be seen in the sort of time we spent there which amounted to just over three hours. Other major carriers are Sun Express with A320 and Boeing 737-800, many of which sport special liveries and Laudamotion utilising many ex Air Berlin aircraft. Although there are a number of other major European carriers, Lufthansa surprisingly has a very small presence and one that is scheduled to become smaller throughout 2019. Russia is well served with flights by Aeroflot A320 and 737s from S7 and Nordwind.

Nordwind 737-800

S7 Airlines 737-800

Turkey is also a popular destination given the number of expats in Germany. Operators include Atlas Global, Pegasus, Our Air and Turkish Airlines in addition to Sun Express.

Turkish 737 and Onur Air A321

Sun Express 'Eintracht Frankfurt' 737-800

Long haul services come courtesy of the likes of ANA, Singapore, Iraqi Airways Air China and Emirates who provide the only A380 service. Arguably though the star visitor is the Mahan Air Airbus A340 from Tehran, which we unfortunately missed by just a few minutes!

Aircraft can be seen and photographed at the majority of the three terminals, however with the runway and taxiway system so close by it is almost impossible to miss anything on the move either departing or arriving.

Final journey

At around 5:15pm we decide to move on as even though the airport is still busy it is becoming more of the same and we still have one more destination on our wonderful day tour. Despite it being well into the afternoon and that it will be going dark soon this is not only no problem but possibly a benefit for our final airport!

Staying in Germany our next stop is Köln/Bonn which at a little over an hours drive to cover the 40 miles (65km), no doubt affected by the time of day, serves over 12,000 passengers per year and with nearly 840,000 tonnes of freight is a major cargo hub with UPS basing its European operations there meaning the airport gets busier into the evening.

These night time operations are made easier due to the airport being surrounded by the Wahner Heide nature reserve meaning no neighbours with the ability to complain about aircraft noise.

Named after Konrad Adenauer, West Germanys first Chancellor, Köln/Bonn Airport (IATA code CGN, ICAO EDDK) is Germanys seventh largest passenger airport and the third largest in terms of freight. Car parking is between €3.00 and €6.00 per hour unless you can plan your visit on a Sunday or Bank Holiday when the airport runs a promotion aimed at shopping at the airport when the cost is just €3.00 for a stay between 09:00 and 19:00

Again there is a spectator terrace here which overlooks both the threshold of R14L and the main UPS ramp as well as having good views over parts of the apron as well as distant views of the parallel R14R/32L and the crosswind R24/06

The terrace here has a number of advantages, not only is it free to access, has great views but it is open until midnight enabling the hardiest of spotter to take in the myriad of cargo flights using the airport at that time of night. UPS use 747-300 and -8 in addition to Boeing 767 and 757. Furthermore the airline utilises other airlines such as Cargojet and Star Air with 767 to supplement its own fleet. Other cargo operators include MNG with Airbus A300-600F, FedEx with Boeing 777F and EgyptAir Cargo again with A300 as well as the Airbus A330F.

fedex 777f


Cargojet 767F

Star Air 767F

Passenger operations are dominated by Eurowings (although most aircraft are still GermanWings liveried currently) as well as Ryanair, Sun Express and TUI. There are a few interesting operators such as Tailwind Airlines to Antalya, Pobeda to Moscow and St Petersburg and Georgian Airlines to Tblisi.

There are a number of stored aircraft and over to the west there is a military ramp where Luftwaffe and Government aircraft can be seen. There is also an interesting exhibit at the western end of the airport. F-BUAB an A300 previously used for Zero G flights and is on display waiting on it opening as an exhibition.

The position of the terrace means that the best photographs will be had when aircraft are landing and departing from R14L as aircraft will land to your left or taxi in front of you. Even when other runways are in use all movements are visible and aircraft will often taxi close enough to photograph.

It’s now nearly 8pm and it’s still busy out on the ramp but photos are becoming more difficult and tiredness is creeping in and we still have to find the hotel.

It has been a thoroughly interesting day and with five airports in three different countries and well over 1500 photos under our belts while at no time rushing around or cutting any visit short it is time to call it a day, and what a day it has been!

This visit was made in October 2018 as can be seen by some aircraft no longer in the skies but the ability to do this is still very much possible.

Enjoy it if you do!

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