When one thinks about spotting in Tokyo, Haneda and Narita airports come to the mind immediately. However, there is one more, lesser known airport with scheduled passenger services in the metropolis, Chofu airport. Last weekend, I decided to go there to catch some new traffic and to be able to bring you this guide.
What Traffic to Expect
The airport is located on the western end of Tokyo, and is mainly used by general aviation. During my visit on a Saturday afternoon, there was some light aircraft and helicopter activity.
More interestingly, however, New Central Airservice (NCA) – a small commuter airline – is based there. NCA operates multiple daily services to the outlying Tokyo islands of Oshima, Miyakejima, Kouzushima, and Niijima. The routes are served using a fleet of six Dornier Do-228s (both old and new generation).
You can find the airline’s schedule here.
As the photography conditions are better in the afternoon, I planned to go there from around 1PM until about 5PM when one can expect to catch four of the six Dorniers arriving and departing. My plans were cut a bit short as clouds started to form.
Where to Take Photos
While the eastern side of the airport is filled with buildings, the western side has a park along the whole length of the runway. As such, you can easily photograph both landings and take offs regardless of the runway direction used (the airport has one 17/35 runway).
Runway 17 End
During my visit, runway 17 was in use (except for one landing). As such, I went to the northern end of the park. To get there, you have to take Chuo Line from Shinjuku station to Musashi-Sakai station, and transfer to Seibu Line there to get to Tama station.
From Tama station, the spot is just a ten minute walk away. Exit the station, head left, and turn right at Family Mart. You can also stock up on food and drinks there if necessary. Cross the railroad track, and head straight. Turn right at the first traffic lights, and then take the first left again. Walk straight, and you should reach the entrance of Musashinonomori Park.
Head straight across the park, and the runway will be in front of you.
For landings on runway 17, you can stay on a hill next to the airport fence. You will need a focal length of about 200mm (35mm equivalent) for a Do-228.
For line-ups on the runway, in early afternoon, you have to go down the hill, and photograph the aircraft over the fence as they start their take-off roll. A Do-228 on the runway requires abotu 160mm (35mm equivalent) here.
As the fence holes are too small, you need to shoot over the fence. A 2-step ladder will do the job if you have that luxury. If not, a variable angle screen and live view come in very handy.
Later on, when the sun moves, you can also shoot aircraft as they enter the runway from the hill. For a Do-228 lining up, you will need about 220mm (35mm equivalent).
The hill is high enough to prevent any fence from being in the photo. Of course, depending on your preference, you can also keep shooting over the fence from the previous position.
Runway 35 End
In case of runway 35 operations, the situation is similar, except I do not think there is a hill on the other end of runway. Even so, you should still be able to shoot approaches without any problem, and aircraft on runway in the same way as on the 17 end.
While you can walk to the 35 end from the 17 end, Tobitakyu station on the Keio line is closer. See the walking directions here. Once I have a chance to take photos on the 35 side, I will bring you more details.
Chofu airport is the easiest place to photograph New Central Airservice’s Dorniers. There is a park along the whole western side of the airport making spotting there fairly easy in the afternoon.
While you cannot expect much in terms of traffic, it is still a great place to spend an afternoon at if you are on a longer trip to Japan and need some variety to add to the Haneda and Narita traffic. On the weekends (maybe even weekdays), you can watch baseball and soccer school teams practice at the fields in the park to fill the time between the movements.