Last week, on my way to Slovakia, I had a chance to visit Istanbul for a day. Since I did some sightseeing in the city the last time I was there – courtesy of Turkish Airlines’ free transit tour – this time I decided to do some Istanbul spotting and other aviation-related things.
While the below takes a look at my day there, it should also serve as a fairly good guideline on what you could do should you decide to visit Istanbul for spotting.
Istanbul Airport Overview & Runway Usage
Istanbul Ataturk airport is the main airport in Istanbul. It is also the largest airport in Turkey and the fifth largest in Europe. The traffic at the airport is largely dominated by Turkish Airlines. However, other local companies – including AtlasGlobal, Onur Air, and MNG Airlines – can be seen there as well. A number of interesting foreign operators including Libya Airlines fly to Ataturk airport as well.
The airport has three runways – 17L/35R, 17R/35L, and 05/23. Generally, the wind seems to be blowing from the north meaning runways 35R, 35L, and 05 are in use. That was the case during my visit as well. Runways 35R and 35L are used predominantly for take-offs while 05 is used for the majority of landings.
Istanbul Spotting Map
The map below shows all the locations mentioned further down in the report.
Morning Spotting Session: Florya Park
Florya Park Overview
After arriving from Tokyo around 4AM, I spent a couple of hours relaxing in the terminal. Then, shortly before 7AM, I decided to head out. I got into a cab and asked it to take me to Florya Park – the morning Istanbul spotting spot. It took a bit more than ten minutes to get there, and cost 26 liras (about 8 dollars).
Florya Park is a beautiful park along the coast and it offers great views of aircraft approaching runway 05. Once you get there, wait for the first aircraft to land and position yourself to a place that will give you your preferred angle.
There are plenty of benches along the boardwalk and so spotting there is very comfortable. The only thing that some people might find slightly uncomfortable is the number of (quite large) stray dogs. However, they seemed to be very calm and the locals seemed to be used to them.
The Morning Traffic
Right after I got there, there was a morning rush of narrow bodies – both from Turkish Airlines and AtlasGlobal. Throughout the rest of the morning, plenty of other Turkish Airlines, AtlasGlobal, as well as Onur Air aircraft arrived.
The two highlights from the Turkish passenger traffic to me were the retro A330 and an A321 in the “Discover the Potential” livery. I spotted some Turkish aircraft in the Star Alliance livery as well.
During the morning, also, no less than four A300 and one A330 freighters of MNG Airlines arrived.
From the foreign carriers, there were Turkmenistan 737, Saudia A330, Mahan A310, Uzbekistan 787, and AZAL 757 among others.
Gulls, Ships & Breakfast
Given that the park is situated on the coast, many seagulls and ships can be seen there. They provide for a nice subject for photography when the endless stream of Turkish Airlines 737s gets repetitive.
There are also several restaurants in the park. The one I went to was 30 second walk from where I was spotting. As such, it was a great place to grab something to eat and go to the restroom.
There is also a public restroom in the park, however, during my visit it was closed.
A Visit to the Turkish Air Force Museum
Around 11AM, I decided to head out of the park and go visit the Turkish Air Force Museum. It is located nearby and so I wanted to walk over. However, there was a cab that stopped and asked if I needed a ride, so I decided to take it instead.
It cost me 20 liras (about 6 dollars) and took less than ten minutes. If I asked the driver to turn on the meter, might have been cheaper, but not a big deal.
The museum has great collection of aircraft including a Caravelle, but more about that in a separate review of the museum.
Afternoon Spotting Session: FlyInn Mall
After spending a couple of hours in the museum, I walked over to FlyInn Mall – the afternoon spot. The walk from the museum to the mall took about an hour.
The mall is located on the west side of Istanbul Ataturk airport and on the top floor there is a terrace where you can spot aircraft without any issues.
The terrace offers great views of movements on all three runways. It is, however, especially suitable for photographing aircraft on runways 35 left and right in the afternoon.
The only unfortunate thing about the terrace is the fact that fence gets into the photos. As such, because of my personal preferences, the spot was only suitable for narrowbody photos and close-ups to me personally.
The two highlights during my short stay were the departures of Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah Airways A320s.
A Visit to the Airplane Model Museum
After some time at the terrace, I met up with Mr. Gokhan Sarigol – the President of Fly Service and an avid aircraft model collector.
I had the chance to visit his offices and see his amazing collection of over 6,000 aircraft models of all sizes and types.
I also took some more photos from his office which is located next to the airport before heading to the airport to catch my flight to Vienna.
Istanbul Spotting Summary
- About 70% of traffic is Turkish Airlines, followed by AtlasGlobal, Onur Air and MNG Airlines
- Foreign carriers of interest include Libyan Airlines, AZAL, Turkmenistan Airlines, Iraq Airways, Uzbekistan Airlines, Afriqiyah Airways, etc.
- Generally, runways 05 and 35L/R are in use
- With that configuration, Florya Park is a great place to visit in the morning for 05 arrivals, and FlyInn in the afternoon for 35L/R departures
- At Florya Park, a 70-300 mm lens is ideal; at FlyInn, wider lens is necessary depending on the type of shots you want
- Turkish Air Force Museum is well-worth a visit whether you are a civil or military aviation fan