Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Spotting Guide

Our member Jeremy Denton visited Johannesburg Airport in April 2014 and wrote a guide about it with a total of seven spots. Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB/FAOR), is the busiest airport in South Africa and handled 18.8 million passengers in the year 2013, serving all continents except Antarctica. It serves as the primary airport for domestic and international travel to/from South Africa.

This is the most interesting airport if you want to see a large number of African Airlines. In fact it is probably one of the very few on the whole continent where spotting is known and tolerated. Kenya Airways (mostly E190 and B737, sometimes B787), Air Botswana (RJ85, ATR42/72), LAM Mozambique Airlines (B737, DH8, ERJ135), Air Namibia (319, ERJ135), Air Zimbabwe (B762, B732), Malawian Airlines (B738), Ethiopian Airlines (B787, B772, B77F) and TAAG Angola Airlines (B772). But also Air Austral (B738), Air Mauritius (A340) and Air Seychelles (A332) are just some of the interesting aircraft you will see during the day in JNB. Sadly there are also lots of flights in the early morning or evening, so you will miss some of the very rare birds as well.

But do not let this list fool you, the vast majority of traffic is dominated by the local companies (Kulula, Mango, SAA, SAA Airlink and SAA Express). Also lots of the carriers operate only very small fleets meaning that you will sometimes see the same aircrafts over and over again during your stay.

Written by Jeremy Denton, Kevin Perry and Jan Seba (last update October 2014)

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Airline Variety
Photo Locations
Weather
Airport Information    Runways 03L/21R  03R/21L
4.418 m (12.495 ft) 3.400 m (11.155 ft)
 Concrete Concrete
Terminals International Terminal Domestic Terminal Transit Terminal
BA / LX / LH / LY / EK SA / MN / JE
Spotting Information Ladder Not necessary
Car Absolutely necessary, as there are large distances and also for safety reasons (see Security Information below)
Restrooms Available at spot 6,7 and 8.
Drinks/Food Available at spot 6,7 and 8.
Hotels There are plenty of hotels and small B&B accomodation options around the airport. An excellent hotel with limited view of the apron : Protea Hotel OR Tambo
Season Best season from May to August as there is less rainfall than in the summer.
+++ SECURITY INFORMATION +++
PLEASE BE CAREFUL DURING YOUR STAY IN SOUTH AFRICA. HERE ARE SOME GENERAL TIPS:
– DON´T SPOT ALONE. ALWAYS HAVE A BUDDY WITH YOU
– STAY NEXT TO YOUR CAR WHILE SPOTTING
– DON´T DISPLAY YOUR EXPENSIVE CAMERA EQUIPMENT, TABLET OR SMARTPHONE FOR A LONG TIME.
– AT NIGHT, DON´T GO OUT BY FOOT, EVEN IF YOU JUST HAVE TO WALK A FEW METERS. ALWAYS USE YOUR CAR.
Runway Usage  03L/21R Mainly in use for departures, sometimes when the traffic is low on departures it is also used for arrivals (especially on weekends or early in the morning).
03R/21L Mainly in use for arrivals.

Spot #1 – Arrivals RWY 21L Morning
WHERE From Protea Hotel OR Tambo, exit the parking on the left, continue on Gladiator St until the intersection and take the M32 Promona Rd. Exit when it’s mentioned M45 and follow the direction M45 Benoni. Continue on Dann Rd until the intersection and take Atlas Rd M43. Continue straight, pass the intersection and then take the small road on the left. Go straight, then right, follow this road Bonaero Rd for 5 minutes. When you have the possibility to turn on the right take it.
WHAT Excellent location for arrivals on RWY 21L in the morning.
TIME From sunrise until 10:00/10:30
MISCELLANEOUS There is nothing nearby, so take what you need with you.
FOCAL LENGTH 95mm A346 / 170mm B738 / 210mm A319 / 380mm Learjet


Spot #2 – Arrivals RWY 21L Afternoon
WHERE From Protea Hotel OR Tambo, exit the parking on the left, continue on Gladiator St until the intersection and take the M32 Promona Rd. Exit when it’s mentioned M45 and follow the direction M45 Benoni. Continue on Dann Rd until the intersection and take Atlas Rd M43. Continue straight, pass the intersection and then take the small road on the left. Go straight, then right and follow this road, Bonaero Rd. Park your car after the police station. The overview below is taken at a street corner where it is also possible to shoot. But always keep a distance to the fencewall, as it is not allowed to stay close to it.
WHAT Good location for arrivals RWY 21L in the afternoon.
TIME From 12:00 until the end of the day.
MISCELLANEOUS There is nothing nearby, so take what you need with you.
FOCAL LENGTH 170mm B738 / 210mm ERJ135


Spot #3 – Taxiway and Storage/Maintenance
WHERE From Protea Hotel OR Tambo, exit the parking on the left, continue on Gladiator St until the intersection and take the M32 Promona Rd. Exit when it’s mentioned M45 and follow the direction M45 Benoni. Continue on Dann Rd until the intersection and take Atlas Rd M43. Continue straight past the intersection then take the small road on the left. Go straight, then right and follow this road, Bonaero Rd, for 3 minutes. Turn on the right when you see a large football field. There is an entrance way where you can drive in and park your car in the parking area.
WHAT This location can be used for shooting arrivals on the taxiway after landing on RWY 03R. Only a few portion of the arrivals will actually take this taxiway, most of the planes will take the earlier taxiway off the runway. Cargo arrivals will often pass this point. You can also have pictures of some aircraft who are stored or in maintenance.
TIME Shots on the taxiway are good all day (in winter). Though the spot is most interesting around noon when you don’t have sun for the approach shots. The stored aircraft can only be shot early in the morning.
MISCELLANEOUS There is nothing nearby, so take what you need with you.
FOCAL LENGTH 95mm MD80 / 140mm DC-9


Spot #4 – Arrivals RWY 03R Morning
WHERE From spot 1, take the road who pass inside the house complex Carp Rd, then turn on the first on your left after that turn right to be on M43 direction Atlas Rd. Continue straight for about 10 minutes the take on your right to be on Ridge Rd. Go straight until you see the ILS and turn on the road on your left. The overview shot below was a bit to the north of the marked location, on the other side of the Yaldwin Rd / Leith Rd intersection. There are two possibilities to drive onto the dirt area with your car. There is a small ramp right in the middle of the intersection and another one at the eastern end of the area.
WHAT Good location for arrivals RWY 03R in the morning.
TIME From sunrise until 10:00/10:30.
MISCELLANEOUS There is nothing nearby, so take what you need with you.
FOCAL LENGTH 78mm 388 / 170mm B738 / 210mm ERJ135


Spot #5 – Arrivals RWY 03R Afternoon
WHERE From the Protea Hotel OR Tambo, exit the parking on the left, then at the intersection, on the left on Wellington St. After take the M57 on Pretoria Rd direction Airport. Take the exit on the left ORT Int and Jones Rd. Go straight, turn on the right direction SAA Technical. Continue on this road, you will see on your right lot of parking with cars. Continue straight in direction of Airways Park, then don’t turn on the left to Airways Park, continue straight on Jones Rd and follow the same road for a bit less then 10m. You’ll see on the right a way, next to the road, here you can park your car.
WHAT Excellent location for arrivals RWY 03R in the afternoon.
TIME From 12:00 until the end of the day.
MISCELLANEOUS There is nothing nearby, so take what you need with you. Be careful when standing next to the road while shooting. The driver are quite reckless here and drive very fast.
FOCAL LENGTH 65mm A346 / 240mm Jetstream 41 / 340mm Beechcraft


Spot #6 – Arrivals & Departures RWY 03L Afternoon
WHERE On the third level in the Terminal (landside), you have a large window where you can easily see on the apron and take pictures. To get there, just jump into one of the elevators at the big atrium hall and go to the top level. Be careful about the reflection and try to find a clean spot on the window.
WHAT Taxiing aircraft, departures and arrivals on RWY 03L
TIME From 12:00 until the end of the day.
MISCELLANEOUS There are fast food restaurants and restrooms in the terminal.
FOCAL LENGTH On the RWY : 116mm 744 / 170mm 332 / 380mm AN26 – Taxing : close, less than 120mm


Spot #7 – Taxiing aircraft
WHERE Inside the terminal, when you pass the security check, you have some restaurants and check the last one on the left, you have large windows offering you a great place to take pictures.
WHAT Taxiing aircraft
TIME From 12:00 until the end of the day.
MISCELLANEOUS There are a lot of restaurants and restrooms.
FOCAL LENGTH 18-100mm
Spot #8 – Hi-Flyerz Bar – RWY 03R morning
WHERE An alternative to spot #4 is the Hi-Flyerz ‘Aviation Themed Bar’. It is located directly opposite of Spot#4 on the South side of the N12, located along View Point Road.
WHAT Good location for arrivals RWY 03R in the morning.
TIME From sunrise until 10:00/10:30.
MISCELLANEOUS Its a good place for a lunch break, while the sun is overhead the runway, before moving to the afternoon spot.
www.hiflyerz.co.za
FOCAL LENGTH Almost the same as for spot #4

 

Spot #9 – Arrivals RWY 21R Morning
WHERE Getting to this location is relatively simple. If you’re coming from the south, just follow the Atlas Rd until the end and if you’re coming from the north take the Dann Rd below the highway and then turn right twice. At this point take the driveway to the R21 in direction of Pretoria. Once you are on the driveway be careful when slowing down and pull over onto the left shoulder. You can park your car directly at the location on the grass. Leaving this location is more difficult you can either go onto the R21 or take the small dirt road from here going back to the Atlas Rd.
WHAT While the 21R is usually only used for departures it is sometimes used for arrivals as well. This can happen if there are no departures at the time, which is more common during the weekend. So it’s definitely useful to know this location, because it’s also very easy to reach.
TIME From sunrise until 10:00/10:30.
MISCELLANEOUS The dirt road is a frequently used walkway for the rather poor people going to work. Be mindful of your surroundings and always stay close to the car.
FOCAL LENGTH 120mm for an A346, 200mm for a B738.


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13 thoughts on “Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Spotting Guide

  1. New plane-spotting geeks

    Thank you, thank you and thank you again. All your info will help greatly. Myself and 2 of my friends are new to plane-spotting and have taken 2 trips to OR Tambo – 1 in the late day and one in the evening. The 1 in the evening was good for departures. A car park not too far from the casino. We got up on top of our cars. Don’t ask me at which parking area we were, we just stopped there. Was quite empty and parked alongside the wall near the runway.
    As I said, we are new-comers to this great past-time and we will go through all your information.

  2. RoderickHietbrink

    Dear all,

    Thanks for the for the very nice information and it will not be the first that that Spotterguide helps me to have a nice spotting event.

    I plan to go to Johannesburg end of May for a business trip and decided to do some plane spotting/photography afterwards.

    As I’m on my own are there any TOP tips to go / not to go? Could renting a taxi/driver be an option? Or are there particular places where spotter hang out?

    Thanks for your help.

    Grtz
    Roderick

    1. JeremyJeremy Post author

      Dear Roderick,

      Regarding your questions :

      Any TOP tips, there’s not some really “not go” areas, you have to be careful about some locals people mostly if they are in band (refer to our warning notice in red above). Otherwise every spots that we mentioned are pretty safe except spot 5 as you are only at 1-2 meters from a busy road without any fences to protect yourself from cars, bus or trucks…

      “Renting a taxi” could be an option but not sur he will stay with you the whole day. This option will certainly depend by the how many money that you will give him… In our opinion, the best way is to rent a car or stay at the spot 6.

      Have a nice day

      Jeremy Denton

      1. RoderickHietbrink

        Thanks Jeremy, that’s very helpful.

        I will stay in the Birchwood hotel, so I think (and hope) that’s a good start and I probably rent a car from there or go to spot 6.

        Thanks and I will keep you posted.

        Grtz
        Roderick

  3. Daniel Kuipers

    brilliant info,
    I live about 1 km from the airports terminals and often spend days sitting at these spots. One id add is the rooftop of East Rand Mall shopping complex. Its directly in line with 03R for arrivals which is awesome. get some good head and underneath shots from there.

    1. JeremyJeremy Post author

      Dear Daniel,

      Thank you for your interest on spotterguide especially on JNB guide.

      We will update that soon.

      Greetings
      Jeremy Denton

  4. janwillem

    landings 03 are easy from birchwood hotel carparc = safe as you are on hotel property, staff don’t mind doing your hobby
    and from the carparc at the rand mall, there is a lot of other people aswell so you won’t be on your own there

  5. voyage ile maurice tout inclus

    Hello Jeremy , thank you very much for the article on the subject of “Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Spotting Guide”. So I liked and I share on my Facebook profile and I tweet on my profile twitter as well, so that everyone can see it. Thanks.

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