Spotting at Zurich airport terrace

On Monday morning, I got wind of a Saudi 747SP that was supposed to fly into Zürich the next day. I have flown via the airport numerous times, but never actually stepped outside of the terminals or been on a proper spotting session. I though “Ok, this is it”! After an hour of intense transport searching, it was decided: I would take my chances and try to catch that mighty beast! And do one other thing…


747SP and the unexpected thing that made me go

At first, I didn’t take it too seriously – after all, the information came from twitter, and we’re talking about a Saudi government flight, which like many government flights, gets often delayed and even canceled. It did fly to Zürich about 2 weeks ago, and the pictures like the ones by Peter Schneider below were really something!

Knowing this much in advance, I just couldn’t miss an opportunity to catch a 747SP, even if it involved a 500 km trip. What made decide to eventually go was something else though, that I will cover in another article. But here’s a hint : it involves a turboprop and a company that no longer exists!

Here was the plan: I would take a car-pool on monday later in the afternoon, and then fly back on the next day, hopefully with my card full of SP pictures!


In time for golden light

After a very enjoyable carpool from Grenoble, I arrived at the airport around 11 pm. With the terminal almost empty and very calm, I dove back into my current read for a bit. The night flew way faster than predicted thanks to Ally, a fellow Canadian airport overnighter, who I met in the cafeteria and who was taking her flight back home in the morning.

I’ve often seen the gorgeous early morning bird’s eye perspective pictures from Zürich, and wanted to check that spot out. Right before 6am when the airport opens to traffic, I was posted on floor 10 of P3! The sun was rising until 40 minutes later, but it feels good to see the first plane land and open the show.

Looking to the South at the apron and SR Technics hangar
Swiss Boeing 777-300ER HB-JCA, second landing of the day


It took another 30 minutes before the sharpness of my images was more than just pure luck like the 777 above, but it was worth it!

Sun rising almost exactly perpendicular to the early morning active runway! Just in time for the first aircraft, an Air China A330-200. Lit!


This meant there was about 20 minutes of top quality spotting left before landings were switched to runway 14.

Etihad 787-9 A6-BLC – I think this is the boldest and best looking standard livery of the past few years!
Qatar Airways A350-900 (A7-ALK) lit by the first rays of the day


And here, the money shot I’ve been looking forward to for so long!

Qatar Airways A350-900 A7-ALK over the extended threshold of runway 34
Air Berlin A321


Planes & chill at the terrace

Zürich is one of those airports that is great for casual spotting. If you have a car or a bike, some excellent spots around the perimeter, some of which have been arranged for spotters. And indeed, plane spotting is family activity in Zürich.

China A330 taxiing to the gate. On the right, Martin, a spotter from England. Nice to meet you!

The viewing terrace inside the A/B terminals is great… it just doesn’t open at the right time when the light is ideal. On the other hand, it offers a great view of nearly all the departing heavies, a few gates, and has decent enough light up until about 10am.

Little Red Riding hood, or how they blandly call her here, HB-JMF. One of 2 in Edelweiss’ fleet



Where is the Jumbo?

Around 9am, the Saudi 747 should have been in the air, if it was to arrive by 2pm. After checking flightradar24, there was still no sign of it. Twitter and the “spotters” hack on the ZRH website didn’t yield any more information either. It wasn’t looking too good so far.

Talking about government planes, at a quarter to eleven, we got treated with a pretty special “classic” 737-400, flying for the Thai Royal Air Force.

Follow me guiding her to the business jet apron on the other side of the runway
What turned out to be the highlight of the day, HS-HRH, a 737-400 of the Royal Thai Air Force


About to make a right turn to cross runway 34 towards the bizjet apron

I was also quite happy to see the Icelandair 767-300 later during the afternoon, of which they have only 4, compared to the 28 757s.

Icelandair 767-300, with Swiss A330 lined up rwy 16


12:30, time for heavy departures

The biggest wave of long hauls starts right after noon, and last until about 2pm. Many Swiss heavies, the Cathay and Thai 777s, whereas the US heavies depart more around 10-11am.

The Singapore A380 is evidently the main attraction on the terrace. Everyone was standing in admiration to see her climb away
On the right, the Breitling Lockheed Constellation
Yet another Swiss A330, HB-JHG
Delta 767-400
Delta 767-300


American 767-300
Air Berlin A332 D-ALPI rwy 28, Swiss CS1 rwy 14, United 764 N7055 taxi to rwy 16

For those who want to get really close to the action – to the famous runway intersection, this is the best time to book it! The light is obviously no good, but the spot is surreal!

Thai 777-300ER, rotating right in front of the airport bus tour audience!

As for the 747, it didn’t show up. I learned from Martin, a spotter from England that I met at the terrace, that it was canceled, and rescheduled to the next day. Today, it turned out it was canceled completely.

After the Thai 777 roared away, it was time for me to call it a day and head airside to take my flight back to Geneva. More on that later!…

Til Next time!