Kathmandu Tribhuvan Spotting Guide

Kathmandu is Nepal’s only international airport and by far its busiest airport. 6 km away from the city center, in 2012 it handled approximately 4.6 million passengers and most of its operations are domestic flights that connect the capital with several airports through the country. Even though some of these flights only take 30 minutes, they are still a better choice than to travel by land, where the journey can take hours due to the hilly landscape of Nepal. The airport has two terminals, on separated buildings, one domestic and one international.

Nepal’s domestic aviation is on growing trend and the main reason for a visit to the airport. The airport is surprisingly busy with domestic flights, operated by airliners that are never (or rarely) seen outside the country. Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines are the biggest domestic operators, operating ATR and BAe Jetstreams respectively. International traffic sees a strong presence of airlines from India, with Air India and Jet Airways being the bigest ones, Middles East, with FlyDubai and Qatar Airways operating at least 2 daily flights each, and then China. Turkish Airlines operates the only scheduled flight to Europe (a daily A330). Other widebody operations include Thai (B777-200), AirAsia X (A330-300) and Qatar Airways (A330-300 – night flight)
Since the airport is very close to the city center, it’s best to take a printed map of the airport and point it out to a taxi driver. From Thamel (city center) you can agree a price with the taxi driver of about 400 Nepali Rupees (3,20€) to take you to the spot. With taximeter it would be even cheaper, but usually they don’t like to use it. There are plenty of taxis, so there is no need to rent a car or wonder about bus schedules.

Written by Rui Miguel (visited November 2014)

 Rating Movements
Airline Variety
Photo Locations
Airport Information    Runways 02 / 20
3.050m (10.007ft)
Terminals Domestic International
All the domestic flights All the international flights
Spotting Information Ladder No need
Car No need
Restrooms Available on publicly accessible buildings like restaurants.
Drinks/Food Available on both spots, you will find plenty of small mini markets with snacks and drinks.
Hotels The Airport Hotel is just across the International terminal, but you will find many more, and cheap options in city center, which is only 6 km away.
Season October – December is considered high season. There are more flights as plenty of sunshine
Runway Usage  02/20
First I was confused with runway usage since there were frequent changes. International flights will only land on runway 02, so when there is one approaching, all the domestic flights will also proced for RWY 02 (they mostly make visual aproaches, resulting in tight turns to final). During the morning there is a long period without international arrivals, so the domestic traffic will use RWY 20. Sometimes even with RWY 02 in use, there will be some departures from RWY 20.

Spot #1 – Jadibuti, Arrivals 02 Morning
WHERE Take a taxi to Jadibuti and ask to stop as soon as you pass by the southern part of the airport. Take the dirt road next to the fence until you reach the spot. This area has a lot of houses and is a bit dirty, but the locals didn’t seem bothered by having me taking photos of the planes. The fence is covered with bushes and trees, so you can’t be seen from inside the airport. I was taking photos on an area without the bushes and the military saw me and told me not to take photos. So I moved to a more protected area.
WHAT Great spot for RWY 02 arrivals, however you can’t see the departing RWY 02 traffic. All the departing RWY 20 traffic will pass above you.
TIME From sunrise until 10:30.
MISC. There are some shops with cheap food. The fence is about 2-2,5m high but it’s still possible to take photos without a ladder.
FOCAL LENGTH 100mm = DHC-6, 80mm = ATR-42, 55mm = A320.
Spot #2 – Koteshwor, Arrivals 02 Afternoon
WHERE From spot 1 you can just walk to this spot in a matter of minutes. If you are arriving from the city center, ask taxi driver to stop as soon as you see many buses on your left side next to the airport fence. This is a very busy area, where a main road intersects the road that goes around the airport. Next to that intersection you will see a small grass area in the middle of the road and squezed by cars passing in front and behind you. That’s the spot!
WHAT Excellent for RWY 02 arrivals, you can see and monitor departing traffic from RWY 02.
TIME From 13:00 until the end of the day.
MISC. On the road behind there are plenty of shops, some with restrooms. In Kathmandu there is a lot of dust, and in this place, you will feel it more than in the previous. Also expect a lot of noise from car horns (normal thing in Kathmandu). There were two traffic wardens managing the cars and people but they didn’t seem to care about me taking photos. Inside the airport there are some tower checkpoints used by the military, but because there is none in front of this spot, you should have no problems.
FOCAL LENGTH 55mm = A310, 70mm = B737-700, 155mm = Cessna 208

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2 thoughts on “Kathmandu Tribhuvan Spotting Guide

  1. jan-willem van lier

    near spot nr 2 is a bank/ government building, if u walk in side and take elevator upstairs u will get to the roof top off this building, i was able to take pictures from this rooftop, with overlooks the lineup of the runway, and gives u great landing shots from 10.30-11 am in the morning until sunset ore when they close the roof/building ore send u out 😉 alternative special for number readers is the meridian hotel, right behind the terminal building, it has roof top cafe and you can read everything, with a bit of good aiming you can take some shots as well

    1. JulianJulian

      Jan-Willem, can you send us some pictures of this location please via the contact form. THX


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