Sydney Airport

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Continent: Oceania Country: Australia Region: New South Wales
Sydney
Kingsford Smith International Airport
Location Sydney, New South Wales
IATA code SYD
ICAO code YSSY
Airport type Commercial
Website http://www.sydneyairport.com.au
Overview map Aerodrome Chart
Communications
Tower 120.5 rwys 16R-34L & 07-25, 124.7 rwy 16L-34R
Ground 121.7, 126.5
Clearance 133.8
Approach 126.1, 125.3, 124.4, 128.3, 135.9, 135.1
Departure 123.0, 129.7, 118.4
ATIS 126.25, 112.1, 118.55, 428
CTAF/Unicom
Plane Spotting Hotels guide

Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport is the main airport for Sydney, Australia. Founded in 1920, it is Australia's busiest airport (despite this, it is the smallest capital city airport in terms of area) and is the world's oldest continually operated commercial airport. The airport is named after Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, the famous aviator who was the first to fly across the Pacific Ocean. Home to Qantas Airways, Sydney Airport is also regularly served by over 50 other airlines, domestic and international. Currently, more than 26 million passengers pass through the airport each year.

Sydney Airport has some excellent spotting locations, with movements on all three runways (16R-34L, 16L-34R and 07-25) clearly visible from at least one spot each. Sydney is home to a large community of aviation enthusiasts, many of whom regularly take advantage of the great views from popular viewing locations such as The Beach and Shep's Hill (formerly known as the Tower Mound).

Official Spotting Locations

International Terminal Observation Deck

The only official spotting location at Sydney Airport is the observation deck located in the northern part of the international terminal. The observation deck incorporates the Esky Bar, and food, drinks and seating are available. This makes it a comfortable place to spend some time spotting. The best views from the deck are of 16R takeoffs and landings, and 34L takeoffs. The Sydney skyline provides a nice backdrop for aircraft on approach to 16R. Views over the northern part of the international terminal and of aircraft taxiing to and from the domestic terminal are also good. Part of runway 07-25 is visible, but the observation deck is not a good spot for watching movements there.

The observation deck can be accessed through the Esky Bar, which is located at the far northern end of the international terminal check-in hall. This is to the left as you enter through any of the main doors. The deck is on the level above the departures level, so you have to use the stairs or lift from the outdoor seating area of the Esky bar in order to get up to it.


Update: As of early 2007, the upstairs bar at the observation deck itself was removed along with most of the seating. The main restaurant/bar downstairs still exists.

Photography is best in the afternoon and evening, when the light is best. The approximate required lens focal length is 50 to 300mm, though 200mm is still fine as a maximum. The best place to shoot from is right at the top of the stairs up to the deck. This is useful for everything except 16R approach photos (in front of the city) and some cargo apron movements. For these, it is necessary to use the convenient holes in the glass wall at the far northern end of the observation deck, just next to the lift.

Be aware that parking at the International Terminal carpark is very expensive. It is possible to park over on the other side of the Cooks River (to the west of the airport, near the St. George Rowing Club in Arncliffe) and walk across. This takes about 10 minutes - much more preferable than lining the coffers of SACL even more!

Sample photos from the top of the stairs:

Sample photos through holes in the glass:

Other Spotting Locations

16L Mound

The 16L Mound is a small hill located directly under the 16L approach. The view from this spot is similar to Qantas Drive in that aircraft pass dizzyingly low overhead, however the 16L Mound is less exciting than Qantas Drive because the aircraft involved are much smaller (16L is normally only used for A330-size aircraft or smaller). Still, the 16L Mound offers the best view of 16L/34R operations, and it is the place to come to see the bulk of 'smaller' movements.

To get to the 16L Mound from General Holmes Drive or Southern Cross Drive, driving west, take the lefthand exit for Foreshore Road. Right after you exit, the road will fork. Take the righthand fork, which brings you to a set of traffic lights. There should be a sign for Gate 16. Go straight through the intersection, following the sign for Gate 16. From here, park somewhere along the bottom of the grass hill on your right (either right after the intersection next to the "end restricted parking area" sign, or further along past the 16L threshold) and then walk up onto the grass hill. This is the 16L Mound. Make sure you park away from the 16L threshold, as airport security can be picky as to where you park.

You can photograph from directly under the 16L approach, or from west of it to get a side view of the approaches. Also to the west of the approach path, there is an unobstructed view over the runway (16L/34R) which allows you to photograph 16L touchdowns, 34R touchdowns a bit further away, 16L and 34R departures, and taxiway movements. Photography is best in the afternoon. Approximate required lens focal length is 18mm or thereabouts for photographing aircraft overhead, and about 70 to 400mm for all other shots.

Sample photos from the 16L Mound:

Update: During the course of construction in the area, the earth composing the 16L mound was removed. The spot is still good for viewing 16L/34R operations, however the view is no longer elevated.

25 Threshold

The runway 25 threshold is similar to Qantas Drive (see below) in that aircraft pass extremely low overhead on final approach for, you guessed it, runway 25. It's a thrilling spot when 25 is active for arrivals. You can also view both inbound and outbound helicopters crossing the approach path to and from the helipads, and runway 07 departures, though the latter doesn't offer any particularly unique or exciting angles.

To get to the 25 threshold, drive south/west along Ross Smith Ave. (from the direction of the domestic terminal) until you reach see a large billboard on your left and the 25 blast fence on your right. There's a cleared mound across the road from the blast fence on which you can stand. Park up on the grass, well off of the road, or park back along the road from the direction you came - where there's a small grass area to park on the non-airport side of the road, approximately across from the GA apron - or further along the road - where there's a large-ish gravel area to park off of the side of the road, across from the helipads.

You can move around to get a few different angles for photography. The most dramatic, and most pertinent to the location, is directly under the approach. Alternatively, try shooting from the side to get 3/4 approach shots, and similar. No ladder is required for most angles if you stand on the aforementioned mound on the side of the road, however if you want to get touchdown shots you will need to use a ladder to see over the blast fence. Experiment a bit, as there are some nice photographic options to be had at this spot. The best lighting for photography at the 25 threshold varies according to where exactly you position yourself. If you're shooting from directly below the approach, early morning and late afternoon/evening are the ideal times. Otherwise, if you're shooting from the side, avoid midday light.

Sample photos from the 25 Threshold:

Barton Park Hill

Barton Park Hill affords an excellent view over runway 07/25, as well as the southwestern side of the International Terminal. 07 arrivals and 25 departures are great viewed from this spot, as aircraft pass very low overhead. 25 departures are especially exciting when there is a crosswind. Further away, some 16R/34L rotations are visible, though activity on that runway is not the main focus of Barton Park.

To get to Barton Park Hill from General Holmes Drive, travel west through the tunnel that passes under 16R/34L and continue along (do not get on the M5) until the first traffic lights. Turn right at the lights, into Bestic St., and then right at West Botany St., again at the first set of traffic lights you come to. Drive along West Botany for a short way (about 500m) until you see an entrance on the right side of the road which leads into the carparks for the park. Continue straight along the small road that leads into and alongside the park, all the way to the end, where you jog to the left and go up a small hill before reaching Barton Park Hill's carpark overlooking the airport. Park here, and either stay at the carpark or up the small embankment next to the fence on the northern side of the carpark, or walk towards the airport to the hill past the carpark (see photography info, below). To get to Barton Park Hill from the northern side of the airport, drive west on Airport/Qantas Drive, which turns into Marsh St. Continue along Marsh St., over the M5, until you reach a T-intersection at West Botany St.. Turn left onto West Botany, and drive until you see a gate into Barton Park on the left side (about 600m from the T-intersection). Turn into the park here, and follow the directions above.

By public transport, take the train to Banksia station. Exit the station, turn left onto the Princes Highway (going northwards) and then turn right into Spring Street. You will be heading eastwards at this point. Follow Spring Street to its very end, where it intersects with West Botany Street. Directly opposite you will see the driveway leading you into Barton Park. Many cyclists also use this driveway, as Barton Park seems to be a popular bike riding location.

There are two slightly different spots for photography. One is the small metre-wide embankment on the northern side of the carpark (the left side as you look towards the airport), right next to the fence. This spot gives you an elevated view that is almost straight down runway 07/25, and it is great for 25 almost-head-on takeoff photos - head-on if there's a crosswind - and 07 touchdown shots. Long-exposure night photography of both 07 arrivals and 25 departures is excellent here, as the whole runway and approach/departure path is unobstructed. The other location for photography is the hill just past the gate that is on the airport side of the carpark, and to the left (as you look at the airport). The view from here is less head-on, but otherwise the view of 07/25 movements is comparable. Photographing 16R/34L activity is a bit easier from this spot, because you are a little closer than you would be at the carpark. 25 arrivals are rather far way, but with a long lens and very little heat haze they are conceivably 'photographable' from both locations. The waters of the Cooks River can make a nice foreground in photos. Lighting for photography at Barton Park Hill is best in the afternoon and evening. Approximate required lens focal length for 07 touchdowns, 25 rotations, and 16R/34L movements is 280 to 500mm. 25 arrivals would required 500+ mm. For 07 approaches and 25 departures (as they pass overhead), you can use about 15 to 60mm.

Although the hill offers close proximity to the airport (and low aircraft overhead on take-offs and landings of the East-West Runway), the elevated view is somewhat obstructed by fences and other construction work on the airport perimeter between the runway and the park. A slightly higher elevation would help improve images immensely.

Barton Park itself is far from being a 'manicured garden' and looks somewhat unkempt in places.

Sample photos from Barton Park Hill:

The Beach

The Beach is a favourite spot for both photography and viewing. The Southern end of 16R/34L is visible, with 16R and 34L rotations often occurring in front of either Sydney ATC Tower or the city skyline. 34L landings can also be observed in the distance, as well as 16L arrivals behind the tower. Aircraft taxiing along taxiway Alpha are always crowd-pleasers, with wingtips passing just meters from the fenceline - don't forget to wave to the pilots! Other taxi movements can been seen across the runway, with smaller aircraft frequently taxiing to or from 16L/34R. The gates to the carpark at The Beach are locked at around 7 or 8PM.

To get to The Beach travelling west on General Holmes Drive (from the east side of the airport), continue along until you pass through the tunnel under 16R/34L. Exiting the tunnel, stay in the lane in which you can either go left (for the M5) or straight (for General Holmes Drive). Go straight, and immediately after the M5 entrances branches off to the left there is a small left turn lane which leads into an Airservices Australia facility. Turn left into there, then turn right around the buildings in front of you, then left (continuing around the buildings) and then left again. There should be a carpark straight ahead of you, in which you park. For carpark spotting (see photography info below), stay put. Otherwise, head towards the bushes at the far end of the carpark and follow the fenceline there until you reach a cleared area and another fence preventing further forward progress - this is The Beach fenceline area. To get to The Beach travelling east on General Holmes Drive, look for a small turnoff to your left after passing over the Endeavour Bridge. This leads to the Airservices Australia area, at which point you can skirt around the buildings to the carpark following the directions outlined above. There is no way to get to The Beach going east on the M5, so you need to pass through the tunnel under the runway, turn around, and following the directions for travelling west on General Holmes Drive.

There are two main spots for photography: the fenceline, and the carpark. The fenceline gets you close to 16R and 34L departures, and can afford some decent angles of 34L arrivals. Taxiway Alpha movements are excellent from the fenceline, with other taxiway movements behind the runway visible but not ideal. A relatively tall ladder is essential for fenceline spotting in order to see above the fence. Be sure to keep your ladder at least three meters from the fence, as airport security will probably ask you to move it back if it too close. If you don't have a ladder, there is a large rock at the edge of the bushes which you can stand on, however this only helps a little. The carpark affords views of 16R and 34L departures and 34L landings. A ladder is not required. Lighting for photography is best in the afternoon and evening. The approximate required lens focal length for fenceline photography is 15 to 20mm for wideangle shots of aircraft approaching on taxiway Alpha, and 160 to 400mm for everything else (though 200mm is still fine as a maximum). For carpark photography, the approximate required focal length is 200 to 500mm.

Sample photos from The Beach fenceline:

Sample photos from The Beach carpark:

Photo from The Beach carpark of spotters at the fenceline:

Hammond Place/Helicopter Area

For rotorheads, the area around Hammond Place and its intersection with Ross Smith Ave. is the main place to view or photograph helicopters. There are a number of pads, from which a variety of different helicopters regularly arrive and depart.

To get to this spot, drive south/west along Ross Smith Ave. (from the direction of the domestic terminal) until you reach Hammond Place on the right side. You can pull into Hammond Place and park on the side, out of the way. Walk around the fence surrounding the helicopter area to wherever you want to shoot from.

Helicopters arriving and departing, as well as static helicopters, can be photographed from anywhere around the fence that surrounds the pads. Keep in mind that a ladder is necessary for shooting anything close to the ground. Photography here is good at any time of the day (except around midday), depending on where exactly you're photographing from around the fence. Approximate required lens focal length is 40 to 200mm.

Sample photos from the helicopter area:

Qantas Drive

Qantas Drive is an awe-inspiring spot to watch aircraft as they scream over your head on final for 16R, only 20 meters above you. At the very least, be sure to come here to experience a 747 approach - it is guaranteed to blow you away (figuratively, of course - but hold onto your hat. Certain well-known Sydney spotters have lost numerous items of headgear at this spot...)! As well as 16R approaches there is a good view of 34L departures from Qantas Drive, though it is nowhere near as exciting as the former. Note that the gate to the small parking area for this spot may occasionally be closed.

To get to the Qantas Drive spot driving east on Airport Drive (which turns into Qantas Drive), continue past the International Terminal (heading towards the Domestic terminals) until you see a small grass area and a yellow gate on the left. Turn into this area and park on the grass, out of the way of the entrance. To get to the spot driving west on Qantas/Airport Drive, you need to continue past the domestic terminals, past the Qantas Jetbase, and past the spot itself (you cannot turn right into it). Drive up through the arrivals drop-off area for the International terminal and loop back around to return to Qantas/Airport Drive travelling east. At this stage, you continue until you see the aforementioned yellow fence on the left and turn into the grass area. If the gate to the grass parking area is closed, you will need to walk a fair distance either from the International Terminal arrivals carpark (the expensive, but slightly easier option) or from street parking around the St. George Rowing Club in Arncliffe.

You can take photos from two main locations on Qantas Drive. Shooting from the grass area where you park allows side shots of 16R approaches and 34L departures. On a still day, you can try artistic reflection photos of 16R approaches using nearby Sheas Creek. For straight-overhead photos of 16R approaches or 34L departures, you need to walk west along the footpath that runs along Qantas drive until you are in line with the 16R approach lighting. Photography at Qantas Drive is best in the morning. The approximate required lens focal length is 80 to 300mm at the grass parking area, anything less than 20mm for wideangle 16R approach shots from the straight-overhead spot, and 70 to 200mm for 34L departures.

Sample photos from Qantas Drive:

A view of Qantas Drive from the opposite side of the road as the main spot:

This is where the spot is.

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Shep's Hill (Tower Mound)

Previously known as the Tower Mound, this spot has been renamed in honour of the late Bruce "Shep" Shepherd, a much loved and respected member of the Sydney spotting community who passed away in October, 2005. While photography at the hill isn't as unique as some other spots (unless you don't mind side-on photos), general viewing is excellent as the elevated persepective gives you a great view of a large portion of the airport. Shep's hill is a great place to relax, airband scanner in hand, in the shadow of the Sydney ATC Tower. 16R roll-outs and departures, 34L departures, 07 arrivals and departures, and 25 roll-outs and departures are all visible. There are good views of the International Terminal, and all aircraft going to and coming from runway 16L-34R pass right in front of you.

To get to Shep's Hill, get onto Ross Smith Avenue (the road that skirts the eastern side of the airport, parallel to General Holmes Drive) travelling south, away from the domestic terminals. You will pass the helicopter pads on the right. Continue on the road past the long term carpark and the various rental car lots, around a few sharp jogs in the road, until you reach the fenceline below the Tower (at which point you'll see Shep's Hill). You can park pretty much anywhere on the grass below or on the hill, though as always be sure to stay at least three meters from the fence and just generally keep out of the way of any other vehicles.

Photography, as mentioned above, isn't particularly unique at Shep's Hill. However, if you're content with side-on shots, it's fine. Photographic opportunities comprise 16R arrivals, 34L arrivals and departures, and taxiway Bravo and taxiway Charlie movements (among others). Shots of 07 arrivals and 25 departures are possible, but not ideal (especially in summer when there is a large amount of heat haze). Lighting for photography is best in the morning. The approximate lens focal length required is 70 to 300mm.

Sample photos from Shep's Hill:


Update: A line of newly installed lighting poles directly between Shep's Hill and the runway is an annoying obstruction.

Wikimapia location and description.

Locations to Avoid

There aren't any particular locations that should be avoided at Sydney Airport. Airport security officers rarely approach you if you are taking photos, but if they do they're usually quite friendly. Just act sensibly - park your car out of the way and away from any fences, and be sure to keep ladders three metres from the fence. Stay out of private property, such as the longterm carpark.

Radar Field

The Radar Field contains a large mound of gravelly construction material which gives you an excellent, elevated view of 16R/34L and the taxiways on either side (Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie). The visible action is similar to that which can be seen from Shep's Hill, however the Radar Field affords an added view of 34L touchdowns which is relatively unique compared to all of the other spots. Note that, because the mound at the Radar Field is on a construction site, access may be limited at times - weekends are your best bet. Also, you may find that the size of the mound changes from one visit to the next, as the material that it is made up of is used for the construction.

To get to the Radar Field from General Holmes Drive or Southern Cross Drive, driving west, take the lefthand exit for Foreshore Road. Right after you exit, the road will fork. Take the righthand fork, which brings you to a set of traffic lights. There should be a sign for Gate 16. Go straight through the intersection, following the sign for Gate 16. From here, park somewhere along the bottom of the grass hill on your right (either right after the intersection next to the "end restricted parking area" sign, or further along past the 16L threshold) and then walk up onto the grass hill (the 16L Mound - see above) and straight towards the 16R/34L fenceline across a somewhat big field (at which point you'll see the large mound that you stand on). Make sure you park away from the 16L threshold, as airport security can be picky as to where you park.

The main photographic attraction of the Radar Field is the view it gives you of 34L touchdowns and late 16R rotations and departures. You also have a similar view of side-ons as at Shep's Hill, as well as taxiway movements. Lighting is best for photography in the morning. The approximate required focal length is about 300 to 400mm for 34L touchdowns, and about 50 to 400mm for most other shots.

Sample photos from the Radar Field:

Update: Reports indicate that the Radar Field is now fenced-off and locked. As with other enclosed land, it's probably best to avoid this area for the foreseeable future.

Regular Traffic

International

Aerolineas Argentinas (A340-200)
Aircalin (A320-200, A330-200)
Air Canada (B777-200LR)
Air China (A330-200)
Air Mauritius (A340-300)
Air New Zealand (A320-200, B767-300ER, and occasionally B777-200ER and B747-400)
Air Niugini (B767-300ER, B757-200)
Air Pacific (B737-800, B737-700, B747-400)
Air Vanuatu (B737-800)
Asiana Airlines (B777-200ER)
British Airways (B747-400, B777-200ER)
Cathay Pacific Airways (A330-300)
China Airlines (A330-300)
China Eastern Airlines (A330-300)
China Southern Airlines (A330-200)
Emirates Airlines (A340-500, B777-300ER, and occasionally B777-200ER)
Etihad Airways (A340-500, A340-600)
Garuda Indonesia (A330-300)
Hawaiian Airlines (B767-300ER)
Japan Airlines (B777-200)
Jetstar (A320-200, A321-200, A330-200)
Korean Air (A330-300, B777-200ER)
LAN Airlines (A340-300)
Malaysia Airlines (B747-400, B777-200ER)
Pacific Blue Airlines (B737-800, E-190)
Philipine Airlines (A330-300)
Polynesian Blue Airlines (B737-800)
Qantas Airways (B737-400, B737-800, B767-300ER, A330-200, A330-300, B747-400, A380-800)
Qantas New Zealand (Jetconnect) (B737-800, B737-400)
Singapore Airlines (B747-400, B777-300ER, A380-800)
Thai Airways (B747-400, B777-200ER)
United Airlines (B747-400)
Vietnam Airlines (B777-200ER)
Virgin Atlantic (A340-600)

Domestic

Aeropelican Air Services (EMB-110, Jerstream J31)
Air Link Airlines (Dubbo) (PA-31, B1900D)
Big Sky Express (SA-227AC)
Jetstar (A320-200, 787)
REX - Regional Express (SA-227DC, SF340A/B)
Qantas Airways (B737-400, B737-800, B767-300ER, A330-200)
QantasLink (Eastern Australia Airlines) (DHC-8-100, DHC-8-200, DHC-8-300, DHC-8-400)
Tiger Airways (A320)
Virgin Blue Airlines (B737-700, B737-800, E-170, E-190)

Cargo

Atlas Air (B747-400F/SCD)
Cathay Pacific Cargo (B747-400F)
DHL Cargo (Asian Express Airlines) (B757-200)
Federal Express (MD-11F)
Korean Air Cargo (B747-400F/SCD, B747-400F/ER/SCD)
Malaysia Airlines Cargo (B747-200B/SF)
Singapore Airlines Cargo (B747-400F/SCD)
United Parcel Service (MD-11F)

Facilities and Transportation

Unfortunately, many of the spots at Sydney Airport require a car to get to. You can, however, take an Airport Link train from the city or a route 400 Sydney Bus (originating at Bondi) to the International or Domestic terminals and from there walk to many of the northern and eastern spots. The 25 Threshold and the Helicopter Area are an easy 15-20 minute walk from the Domestic Terminal, and a further 10 minutes takes you to Shep's Hill. The Qantas Drive spot is relatively close to the International Terminal, but try to cross over to the correct side of Qantas Drive directly in front of the short-term carpark to avoid a somewhat difficult crossing of Qantas Drive itself. Walk through the carpark, away from the terminal building and to the left of the large office building, and you'll find a red-brick crossing and a path going under the road. Turn right and follow the footpath to the 16R approach. The International Terminal Observation Deck is the only very easy spot to get to without a car - take one of the aforementioned means of public transport to the International Terminal. The route 410 Sydney Bus (also from Bondi) stops at the Qantas Jetbase, but skips both the International and Domestic terminals.

As far as facilities go, there are places to get food pre-security on both the departures and arrivals levels in the International Terminal and on the arrivals level in the Domestic Terminal T2. Hotels at the airport include the "Stamford Plaza Sydney Airport," "The Mercure," and the "Hotel Formule 1."

Links