When thinking about plane spotting in Japan, it’s easy to focus on the two Tokyo airports. However, the country offers other regional airports that offer a nice mix of traffic that cannot be seen in Tokyo and of nice photo points.
One of such airports is Naha (Okinawa) which is the seventh busiest airport in Japan and also the main entry and exit point for visiting the Okinawa Islands.
While I haven’t done much spotting at the airport outside the terminals, I decided to put together this guide to let you know what you can expect should you find yourself at Naha airport with some time to spare before your flight.
Aircraft You Can See at Naha (Okinawa) Airport
If you decide to spend some time plane spotting at Naha airport, you can expect to see a nice mix of domestic and regional carriers – both traditional and low-cost. Aside from a recently started Peach flight to Bangkok and a Jetstar Asia flight to Singapore, there are no year-round scheduled flights beyond China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Domestic carriers that can be seen at Naha airport include the two giants – ANA and JAL – and their subsidiaries ANA Wings, Japan TransOcean Air, and Ryukyu Air Commuter. The last one of those is of particular interest given that it operates a fleet of rare Bombardier Q400CCs on inter-island routes and so it is rarely if ever seen outside of Okinawa.
The other two domestic aircraft worth watching out for are the Japan TransOcean Air 737-800s in the Jinbei Jet livery.
Other than that, there are also numerous daily flights by most of the Japanese “semi-low-cost” and low-cost airlines including Skymark Airlines, Solaseed Air, Jetstar Japan, Peach, and Vanilla Air.
As for the international flights in and out of Naha, they are operated by both some of the Japanese low-cost airlines as well as by foreign carriers. There are no international passenger flights in and out of the airport operated by ANA and JAL.
International carriers that can be seen at Naha airport include – among others – China Airlines, Air China, Eva Air, Asiana Airlines, Jin Air, Korean Air, China Eastern Airlines, and Tigerair Taiwan.
For a fairly accurate list of all the airlines serving the airport, check its Wikipedia page. To get an idea of what kind of traffic the airport gets in a day, hour-by-hour, check its Flightradar24 page.
Finally, since Naha airport is also the home of Naha air base, some aircraft operated by the Japan Self-Defense Forces can be seen there as well. Those include F-15 fighter jets, T-4 trainer jets, and P-3C surveillance aircraft.
Plane Spotting at Naha (Okinawa) Airport
Even though large part of Naha airport is along the coast, there are several locations around the airport – especially on the southern end – where spotting is possible. That said, I haven’t visited any of those for a considerable amount of time yet, so I will report back on those once I do.
Instead, here I want to focus on two specific locations inside the terminals. The first of those is an indoor observation hall in the domestic terminal and the second one is an outdoor observation deck in the international terminal. On a side note, it takes five or so minutes to walk between the two terminals.
Given that both of the terminals are on the east side of the airport’s sole runway 18/36 (another, parallel, runway is being built to the west of it right now), they both offer ideal light conditions for photography in the morning.
Starting at the domestic terminal, the indoor observation hall can be found in the center of the fourth floor. There are also two small outdoor observation decks on either end of the third floor, however, those offer very limited views due to their size and location.
As for the observation hall, you can capture many of the movements taxiing in front of you either after landing or before take-off depending on the runway in use. You can also get aircraft parking in the nearby gates from up close.
It’s worth noting here that the glass has a bit of a color cast, but nothing unfixable if you shoot RAW. In terms of focal lengths, you will need about 220 mm (36 mm eqv.) for a 737-800 on the taxiway, about 480 mm (36 mm eqv.) for the same aircraft taking off, and a wide-angle lens to photograph it entering one of the gates in front of the hall.
The observation deck in the international terminal is outdoors, on the fourth floor. Unfortunately, though, it is surrounded by a metal fence with mesh too small to photograph through. However, it is possible – with a bit of effort – to take photos through a gap about 10 cm wide that is between the wall below the fence and the fence itself.
Being located right in front of the runway 18 end, it should offer nice views of arriving aircraft if the runway is in use. In case runway 36 is in use, you are limited to aircraft vacating the runway – though heat haze, as well as distance and angle, might be an issue in that case.
Aside from the movements on the runway, you can also photograph movements at the international terminal. In terms of focal lengths, you will need about 160 mm (36 mm eqv.) for a 737-800 or similar after push back from the international terminal.
While Okinawa airport is far from being the busiest in Japan, and its traffic is not as diverse as the traffic at – let’s say – Narita airport in Tokyo, the airport is still well worth a visit. Especially so if you have already been to the two Tokyo airports and are looking to add a bit of variety to your collection both in terms of airlines and in terms of the kind of photos you get.