Spotting Guide: Miami International Airport During Easterly Winds

Miami Spotting Guide (During Easterly Winds)

Miami International airport is one of the busiest airports in the United States and the busiest one in Florida. It is also the largest gateway between the United States and South America, and the top airport in the United States in terms of international cargo volume. This ensures a steady stream of interesting traffic into the airport, and makes Miami spotting a thing that should be on every enthusiast’s to-do list.

At the beginning of March, I spent three days around the airport. I did not have a car, but did not find that to be a big problem, and so I decided to write this spotting guide to give you a better idea of what spotting at Miami airport is like, especially if you do not have a car.

 

Miami Airport Spotting Map

The map below shows an overview of runways, spotting locations, and stores where you can get drinks and food.

 

Miami Airport Runway Usage

Miami airport has four runways. Three of those – 08L/26R, 08R/26L, and 12/30 – are located in the northern part of the airport, while the fourth one – 09/27 – is located in its southern part.

Most of the time, the wind seems to be blowing from the east. This results in runways 08L, 08R, 12, and 09 being in use – all simultaneously. This was also the case during my visit, and so what follows is focused on this scenario.

Runways Used for Departures

For departures, the vast majority of the traffic uses the northern runways – the only traffic that departs from runway 09 are cargo aircraft using the southern cargo terminal and A380s that are too large to use the taxiways leading to the northern runways.

Runways Used for Arrivals

On the other hand, arrivals are split more equally among all four of the runways. However, generally, the southern runway – 09 – seems to get most of the interesting movements, especially the South American traffic.

During my three days at the airport, the runway usage varied – for example, one day, Qatar Airways landed on 09 while another it landed on the northern side. However, besides the South American traffic, also most of the European traffic landed on 09.

 

Airlines You Can See at Miami Airport

Below is a brief overview of what traffic you can expect to see at Miami airport. For a comprehensive list of airlines flying to Miami, check the airport’s Wikipedia page.

Domestic and Canadian Airlines

The airline that you will see the most at the airport is American Airlines (and American Eagle). American’s aircraft ranging from the ERJ-145 and ERJ-170 all the way to the 777-300ER can be seen in Miami.

American Airlines ERJ-175

American Eagle ERJ-175.
American Airlines A321

American Airlines A321.
American Airlines 767-300

American Airlines 767-300.

Other major US airlines including Delta, United and Frontier have a presence at the airport as well.

Delta Air Lines MD-88

Delta Air Lines MD-88.
United Airlines 737-800

United Airlines 737-800.
Frontier A320

Frontier A320-200.

Finally, there are also flights by Eastern Air Lines, Sun Country Airlines, Air Canada Rouge and other Canadian carriers.

Eastern Air Lines 737-800

Eastern Air Lines 737-800.
Sun Country Airlines 737-800

Sun Country Airlines 737-800.
Air Canada Rouge A321

Air Canada Rouge A321.

European Airlines

In the afternoon, there is a rush of flights by European airlines. Some of the aircraft that can be seen include Virgin Atlantic 787-9, British Airways 747-400 and A380-800, Lufthansa A340-600 and A380-800, Alitalia A330-200.

Virgin Atlantic 787-9

Virgin Atlantic 787-9.
Alitalia A330-200

Alitalia A330-200.
British Airways 747-400

British Airways 747-400.

South American and Caribbean Airlines

While the above in itself would make for a good day of spotting, it is not what makes Miami spotting stand out. What makes this airport completely different to me from all the other airports I’ve been to before is its South American and Caribbean traffic.

Throughout the day, you can spot a variety of major carriers from the region. Airlines such as Avianca, LATAM, and Aerolineas Argentinas operate multiple daily flights.

Avianca A330-200

Avianca A330-200.
LATAM 767-300

LATAM 767-300.
Aerolineas Argentinas A330-200

Aerolineas Argentinas A330-200.

However, there are also many smaller, harder to catch airlines using the airport. Those inlcude Avior Airlines and SBA Airlines from Venezuela, PAWA Dominica, Cayman Airways and Bahamasair.

PAWA Dominicana MD-83

PAWA Dominicana MD-83.
SBA Airlines 767-300

SBA Airlines 767-300.
Avior A340-300

Avior A340-300.

Cargo Airlines

Besides the passenger airlines mentioned above, cargo airlines from all over the world can be seen in Miami.

The ones with significant presence include Atlas Air, FedEx, Amerijet, ABX Air, and Tampa Cargo.

ABX Air 767-200

ABX Air 767-200.
Amerijet 767-300

Amerijet 767-300.
Tampa Cargo A330-200

Tampa Cargo A330-200.

Others include KLM Cargo, Cathay Pacific Cargo, LATAM Cargo, and Avianca Cargo.

KLM Cargo 747-400

KLM Cargo 747-400.
LAN Cargo 767-300

LAN Cargo 767-300.
Cathay Pacific Cargo 747-8

Cathay Pacific Cargo 747-8.

 

Where to Stay

If you do not have a car, in spite of all the hotels pitfalls, I would consider staying at the Days Inn Miami International Airport hotel as it is just a 5-minute walk to the main spot at the airport. Location-wise, I am pretty sure it is the best hotel for Miami spotting.

Days Inn

Days Inn Miami International Airport.
Days Inn

Guest room.
Days Inn

Pool area.

Also hotels such as Doral Inn & Suites Miami Airport West, Estancia Hotel, Executive Airport Hotel, DoubleTree by Hilton Miami Airport & Convention Center seem to be within a reasonable walking distance (10 to 20 minutes) away from the spot.

Otherwise, Uber should be reasonably priced to either of the two spots below from most of the other airport hotels.

 

Photo Locations

Below are the two most widely used Miami spotting locations – “El Dorado” and “the holes.” Both of these are useful when winds from the east prevail, which was the case during my visit and which seems to be the case most of the time.

#1: El Dorado

This location is probably the most popular Miami spotting location.

It offers excellent opportunities for photographing aircraft arriving and departing from runway 09.

El Dorado

There are things to photograph from including a rock.
El Dorado

For line-up shots, I preferred to go to the fence and shoot through it.
El Dorado

An aircraft approaching runway 09 while another one is holding short, waiting for its turn to depart..

Getting There

The spot is located next to a furniture store called “El Dorado” – hence the spot’s name.

If you have a car, just follow Google Maps to this location.

If you are using Uber, set the “El Dorado” furniture store as your drop off point. Once in the general vicinity, you will easily be able to figure out where the spot is.

Finally, if you are staying at the Days Inn Miami International Airport hotel, just leave the hotel, cross the road, and walk straight past an Exxon gas station for about five minutes. The street will have a dead end which is the spot.

Sun Position

As the location is facing the north, in winter the light will be behind your back from sunrise until sunset. In summer, you can photograph here from late morning until early afternoon.

For exact sun position, use SunCalc – go to this link and pick the date of your visit.

Required Focal Lengths & Sample Photos

For “standard” photos, my 24-105 and 70-200 lenses on a Canon 80D covered all the aircraft types. The shortest focal length I used at the spot was 45 mm (72 mm full-frame) for a 747-8 side-shot on the runway.

Below are some sample photos from the spot including the focal lengths they were taken at.

United Airlines 737-900

737-900 approaching RWY09
155 mm (full frame)
TAP Portugal A330-200

A330-200 approaching RWY09
120 mm (full frame)
Qatar Airways 777-300

777-300 approaching RWY09
100 mm (full frame)
Atlas Air 747-400

747-400 approaching RWY09
115 mm (full frame)
LATAM Cargo 767-300

767-300 lined-up on RWY09
105 mm (full frame)
Polar Air Cargo 747-400

747-400 lined-up on RWY09
80 mm (full frame)

#2: The Holes

The second spot I am going to mention in this guide is “the holes.” This is the official aircraft watching location at the airport, and is named after the photo holes that the airport authorities prepared in the fence.

From here, you can see all the action on the three northern runways.

The Holes

The area offers nice views of the Miami skyline.
The Holes

Airport authorities prepared camera holes in the fence.

Getting There

Similarly to the above, if coming by car, just follow Google Maps to this location.

If you are using Uber, “Swissport Cargo Services” is a good location for both drop off and pick up. I tried getting picked up right at the spotting location, but the drivers could not find it that way. A ride between El Dorado and the holes costs about 6.5 USD.

Sun Position

Conditions for runways 08L and 08R are more or less the same as with “El Dorado.” For runway 12, the light is good from late morning (winter) or early afternoon (summer).

For exact sun position, use SunCalc – go to this link and pick the date of your visit.

Required Focal Lengths & Sample Photos

You will need a wider range of focal lengths here than at El Dorado. Runway 12 is very close to the fence, and you will need something like 24-105 (APS-C) to photograph movements on it.

On the other hand, runway 08L is quite far, and as such, you might need over 200 mm (APS-C) to photograph some of the aircraft.

For 08L (and 08R to some extent), heat haze might be a problem, though.

Below are some sample photos from the spot including the focal lengths they were taken at.

Eastern Air Lines 737-800

737-800 entering RWY12
500 mm (full frame)
American Airlines 737-800

737-800 lined-up on RWY12
135 mm (full frame)
Tampa Cargo A330-200

A330-200 entering RWY12
300 mm (full frame)
FedEx DC-10

MD-10-10 lined-up on RWY08L
400 mm (full frame)
Delta Air Lines 737-800

737-800 lined-up on RWY08R
350 mm (full frame)
Aerolineas Argentinas A340-300

A340-300 lined-up on RWY08R
200 mm (full frame)
American Airlines 737-800

737-800 approaching RWY08R
265 mm (full frame)
American Airlines A319

A319 landing on RWY12
150 mm (full frame)
LAN 767-300

767-300 taxiing for departure from RWY08R
160 mm (full frame)

 

Recommended Miami Spotting Itinerary

One Day Visit

While it will depend on your preferences, if you only have one day at the airport, I suggest you start at El Dorado in the morning and stay there until mid-afternoon. Later in the day, once the heat haze starts to decrease, you might want to go to the holes to get some of the aircraft taxiing for departure, as well as some of the landings on the northern runways.

Longer Visit

In case you have more than one day, I suggest doing the same as the above on one or more days. I would also, however, recommend you to spend one morning at the holes photographing morning departures including aircraft such as Avior and Aerolineas Argentinas A340s, TAM 777-300, and so on.

If you have a car, and are staying in Miami for more than one day, I also recommend you to go to Fort Lauderdale (and Opa Locka) to add some more variety to the traffic you see.

 

Useful Resources

Below is a list of some websites that I found useful for spotting at Miami:

You might also find it useful to see my spotting reports from the trip to get a better idea of what you can expect to see on your trip.

 

Summary

The airport offers a mix of traffic that is hard to see elsewhere. Coupled with the great photo locations, visiting the airport is a must-do for any aviation photographer.

Having a car is preferable to move easily between the spots. It will also allow you to visit nearby airports such as Fort Lauderdale. However, if you cannot or prefer not to rent a car for one reason or another, it is perfectly possible to spot at the airport without one.

If you have any questions about Miami spotting, leave a comment below.

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