Serving over 5 million passengers a year, Kagoshima airport is among ten Japan’s busiest airports, and also the second largest airport on the island of Kyushu.
Besides having an observation deck like many Japanese airports do, there is also a small aviation-themed exhibition in the terminal called “SORA STAGE” where visitors can learn about aviation in general, as well as about the history of Kagoshima airport.
In this article, I’ll take a closer look at both the observation deck and exhibition. If you prefer it in video-form, make sure to check the tour that I did live on Facebook when I visited the airport back in July 2018:
Plane Spotting at Kagoshima Airport’s Observation Deck
Before going to “SORA STAGE,” let’s start with the observation deck. It can be reached by a set of escalators right in front of the domestic security check area, and at its entrance there is an umbrella stand with umbrellas you can borrow in case its raining outside.
As for the deck itself, it runs along the length of the terminal and is fenced off by horizontal wires, similar to the deck at Tokyo Haneda. Unfortunately, there is also a separate metal fence which is fairly distant from the wire fence and which makes photography quite difficult.
The deck is equipped with everything you might need ranging from binoculars and benches, through signs explaining what you can see around you, all the way to vending machines and kids’ rides.
In terms of plane spotting, the light conditions at the observation deck are good in the afternoon. Given that the deck faces the airport’s sole runway, 16/34, you can see all of the airport’s movements from it.
While the airport gets some international flight, the vast majority of the traffic you can see there is domestic. Besides airlines like ANA, JAL, Fuji Dream Airlines, Jetstar, and Peach, the airport is also the base of Japan Air Commuter – JAL’s subsidiary operating commuter flights in the region.
‘SORA STAGE’ Aviation Exhibition Hall
The ‘SORA STAGE’ aviation exhibition hall could be accessed both directly from the terminal, as well as from the observation deck. Given that I was already on the deck, I entered it from there.
Right before the entrance, there was a Boeing 747-300 engine cowl that one could walk through to experience its large size.
Inside, there were six exhibits with various themes spanning everything from the airport’s history all the way to airport operations. While the exhibit nearest to the observation deck’s entrance was exhibit no. 6, I will take you through the exhibition from exhibit no. 1 – as if I had entered through the exhibition’s main entrance, directly from the terminal.
The first exhibit was titled “History of Kagoshima Airport” and featured wall panels detailing the development of the airport including detailed route maps for various points in time.
Exhibit no. 2, titled “Aircraft History” and located on the wall opposite of the above exhibit, portrayed the development of flight from the Montgolfier Brothers’ hot air balloon and the Wright Flyer all the way to the modern aircraft through a series of wall panes as well as scale models.
Exhibits no. 3 and 4 were in a hallway leading to the main exhibition area and the observation deck.
The first of those, “Various Aircraft,” introduced visitors to – as its name suggests – various aircraft types ranging from older ones like DC-3 all the way to the new ones like the A380. The second one, “Branding and Color Scheme[s] of Airlines,” introduced various airlines, mainly those that serve Kagoshima airport.
The last two exhibits were in one large exhibition area just off the observation deck.
The first one of those, no. 5, was my favorite part of the whole exhibition area – a functioning SOLARI split-flap flight information display that’s been in use at Kagoshima airport until 2014. Now, the flights it displays are “dummies.”
I recommend hanging around the sign since every ten minutes or so, the flights on the display change and you can hear the displays signature flapping sound. (You can also see the display in action in the video I embedded in the beginning of this article.)
Finally, exhibit no. 6 was titled “Interactive Exhibit (Experience it yourself)” and consisted of a large wall panel detailing aircraft and airport operations through the ground equipment – such as air stairs, push back truck, etc. – used and through actual aircraft parts among others.
As for the aircraft parts, there were tires of a Dash 8 and a 747 (it’s amazing how different in size they are) and a 747 winglet among others.
Separate from that, there were also paid flight simulators. And, there was a mock-up of a Dash 8 Q400 cabin.
Finally, (I believe) not belonging to any of the above exhibits, there were a small photo exhibition with selected pieces from a local photo contest on one of the walls and a set of panels showcasing historic photos of Kagoshima airport.
In terms of plane spotting, there are better spots around the airport than the observation deck. While I haven’t visited any of those yet, I hope to visit the airport again in the near future – this time for a longer period of time – and bring you details about spotting around Kagoshima airport’s perimeter.
However, if you only have a couple of hours at the airport while transferring to a flight to Yakushima or are in other similar situation and are an aviation enthusiast, then you will enjoy your stay at the airport.
I certainly recommend having a look through the exhibition hall – and waiting for the SOLARI sign to “flap.” And, if you still have time to spare even after going through all the exhibits, then the observation deck is a nice place to watch (and photograph) some of the traffic that the airport gets.