Vancouver International Airport

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Continent: North America Country: Canada Region: British Columbia
Vancouver International Airport
Location Richmond, British Columbia
Airport type Commercial
Overview map Vancouver Airport Authority
Tower 119.55 (North) + 118.7 (South)
Ground 127.15 (N) + 121.7 (S)
Clearance 121.4
Plane Spotting Hotels guide

Official Spotting Locations

Flight Path Park

Flight Path Park is a park off Russ Baker Way under the apporach to 26L, a runway primarily used for airline departures and private aircraft. All movements can be logged from here with decent optics, but photography is limited.

The park has a small, humped map of earth, giving you the effect of standing "on the top of the world." Aircraft fly directly overhead, as the park is directly in their "flightpath."

To the north of this place is the Institute of Technology in which you can log WestJet's B737-200 C-GWJT.

Main Terminal

Only ticketed passengers are allowed on the concourses. There are two 'public' locations from which the action can be watched, but not satisfactorily photographed. On the main floor by the entrance to the C gates are a few chairs facing the window. In the basement food court there are tables and chairs with a somewhat constricted view.

Just follow the "Observation Area" signs. The location is facing west.

If you are just logging airplanes without photographing this might be the ideal location for you as all landings of 26R will have to pass by here in order to get to 26L for takeoff and you can read of the registrations of all departing aircraft (use 26L). If you're taking pictures it might only be of interest as a refuge on a (frequent) rainy day but even then I personally would prefer the Templeton Stop of the Canada Line (see "Templeton Street" comment).

Other Spotting Locations

Templeton Street

The Templeton Street location is the best for most traffic, as almost all aircraft land on runway 26R during favorable wind conditions. You will miss only a few aircraft, which are generally headed to the south terminal, and are, in general, small props as well as freighters and business jets.

How to get there:

  • By car: Left at the second traffic light from the airport (15-20 minutes walk). You will see many cars parked on a dirt track beside the road. The subjects are a bit high and the smaller types (Dash-8 etc.) will require a long lens (about 400mm on a fullformat sensor).
  • By foot: The "Templeton" stop of the Canada-Line Sky Train is a 2min walk from this location and on a rainy day you might even stay and hide from the rain in this stop, but it's tricky to keep the light-poles out of the picture).

You won't be able to log or even see the departures which always use 26L.

"Avis" Lot

The most desirable location if you want to take pictures and have the coastal mountains as the background. This is the first turn left out of the airport by the blast screens. Excellent photos over the fence and all 08L/26R movements can be seen. However, the businesses on this road are private property and not very tolerant. You can get lucky and be left alone for hours or be unlucky and thrown out immediately. Worth the gamble though.

Requires a ladder due to the fence.

South Terminal

This is on the other (South) side of the airport from the main terminal and there is a parking lot which overlooks the ramp and the rather distant 08R/26L runway. Good for logging as everything at Vancouver passes this location sooner or later, and there are reasonable photographic opportunities through the fence.

Floatplanes come and go on the Fraser River to the south of the small terminal, and most of the aircraft parked on the ramps can be logged and some photographed by walking around.

There is a free shuttle bus connecting the South Terminal to the Main Terminal.

East of the South Terminal is a "boneyard" in which some older Pacific Coastal and a Quebecair SF-340s + a SH-360 are stored engineless but in full colors (as of Sep. 2009).

Ferguson Road

When arrivals are on 08L, a long drive from the airport via Templeton Street (above) will eventually lead to a small gravel pull-off at the seashore and close to the threshold.

All arrivals as well as those using runway 12 can be logged and photographed although the location faces south and so is best in the early morning/late evening in the summer. Also along Ferguson Road past the UPS facility there is a raised hill area. Good to photograph on sunny summer evenings when the airport is landing west.

Locations to Avoid

Multi-story car park

Anyone spotting from the top floor is visible to the control tower, with predictable results.

Regular Traffic

Airline Aircraft Terminal/Concourse
Aeroméxico 737-800 D
Air Canada (and Rouge) A319, A320, A321, A330-300, 767-300ER, 777-200LR, 777-300ER, 787-8, 787-9, E190, 737 MAX 8 C, D, E
Air Canada Express (operated by Jazz Air) CRJ-705, CRJ-900, Dash 8 Q300 (twin-turboprop), Dash 8 Q400 (twin-turboprop) C, E
Air China 777-300ER D
Air France 777-200ER D
Air New Zealand 777-200ER, 787-9 D
Air North 737-200, 737-400, 737-500 B (or South)
Air Transat A330-200, 737-800 B, D
Alaska Airlines Dash 8 Q400 (twin-turboprop, operated by Horizon Air), 737-900ER E
All Nippon Airways 787-9 D
American Airlines 737-800, A319 E
American Eagle E175 E
Beijing Capital Airlines A330-200 D
British Airways A380-800, 747-400 D
Cathay Pacific 777-300ER, A350-900 (summer) D
Central Mountain Air Beechcraft 1900 (twin-turboprop), Dornier 328 (twin-turboprop), Dash 8 Q100 (twin-turboprop) B
China Airlines A350-900 D
China Eastern Airlines A330-200 D
China Southern Airlines 787-9, 777-300ER D
Condor Flugdienst (seasonal) 767-300ER D
Corilair DHC-2 Beaver Seaplanes (south)
Delta Air Lines (seasonal) A319, A320, 737-800, 757-200, MD-90 E
Delta Connection CRJ-700, E175 E
Edelweiss Airlines (seasonal) A330-200, A340-300 D
EVA Air 777-300ER D
Flair Airlines 737-400
Hainan Airlines 787-8 D
Harbour Air DHC-2 Beaver(Single Engine Piston), DHC-3 Turbo Otter(Single Engine Turboprop), DHC-6 Twin Otter (twin turboprop) Seaplanes (south)
HeliJet Various helicopters, generally S-76
Hong Kong Airlines A330-200, A330-300 D
Icelandair 757-200 D
InterJet A320 D
Island Express Air Beechcraft King Air 100 (twin-turboprop) South
Japan Airlines 787-8 D
KD Air PA-31 (twin prop), PA-32 (single engine Prop)
KLM 777-200ER, A330-200 D
Korean Air 777-200ER, 747-8I D
Lufthansa A330-300, 747-400, A350-900 D
Orca Airways Piper Navajo (twin-piston) South
Pacific Coastal Airlines Beechcraft 1900 (twin-turboprop), Saab 340 (twin-turboprop) South
Philippine Airlines 777-300ER D
Qantas (seasonal) 747-400 D
Salt Spring Air DHC-2 Beaver (single engine piston), DHC-3 Turbo Otter (Turbine Single engine) Seaplanes (south)
Seair Seaplanes Cessna C208 Caravan (Single engine turboprop), DHC-2 Beaver (Single Engine piston), DHC-2T Beaver (single engine turbine) Seaplanes (south)
Sichuan Airlines A330-200 D
Sunwing Airlines 737-800 B, D
Tofino Air (Charter Only) DHC-2 Beaver (single engine piston) Seaplanes (south)
United Airlines A320, 737-800, 737-900ER E
United Express CRJ-700, E170 E
WestJet 737-600, 737-700, 737-800, 767-300ER, 737 MAX 8 B, D, E
WestJet Encore Dash 8 Q400 (twin-turboprop) A
Xiamen Air 787-8 D

Facilities and Transportation

The SkyTrain's Canada Line connects the airport with downtown (26min ($3.75) to Waterfront Station which is next to the Sea Plane Port and has quite a lot of traffic but the registrations (approx. 20 different) start to repeat after about 2 hours).

Cash fares from the main terminal include a $5.00 surcharge- go to the Pharmasave pharmacy below the domestic arrivals area and purchase a book of "FareSavers" tickets. One zone will do- and then upgrade to a 2-zone fare to enter into Vancouver from Richmond when you get to Bridgeport. (A couple of extra steps but saves you five bucks.) Travel across zone boundaries after 6:30pm on weekdays and all day on weekends and holidays is only $2.50. The Airport Surcharge applies to cash fares 24/7.

Stations at the airport are: Templeton (Templeton Street), Sea Island Way (Air Canada hangars) and the Main Terminal. The Bridgeport Station also offers Bus Connections.

There is a commuter bus around the airport between many spotting locations (or a short enough walk), however, the service is very sporadic, running every 30 minutes Monday-Saturday, not running on Sundays or holidays. This bus was designed for airport employees, so it is rather small.

The South Terminal is connected to the main Terminal by a shuttle bus operated by the airport authority.