Abu Dhabi Airport Spotting Guide

Abu Dhabi – A city like one from Arabian Nights! And it is not just a city somewhere in the desert; it is the capital of the UAE! Our members Marlin and Jonas frequently visit Abu Dhabi and created a guide for this worth seeing city.

The capital airport is the home of the world’s fastest growing airline, Etihad Airways. Being a base for EY, Abu Dhabi airport makes most of its profit from the national airline of the UAE. But there are also 32 other airlines flying into AUH. Several carrier from nearly every corner of the world are being linked with Abu Dhabi, most of them are Etihad Airways partner like Air Berlin, Jet Airways, Air Seychelles, Philippine Airlines or Virgin Australia. Abu Dhabi has got three terminals and a large freight sector. A fourth terminal is under construction and is expected to be opened up in 2016.

Abu Dhabi Airport offers two runways and three terminals. For a safe spotting trip please read the safety advice carefully and obey those tips and instructions.

Written by Marlin & Jonas Lehmann, Julian Mittnacht (last visit Feb. 2014 – last updated January 2017)

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Airline Variety
Photo Locations
Airport Information Runways 12L/30R 12R/30L
1.500m (4,921ft)  1.500m (4,921ft)
Terminals Terminal 1 Terminal 2 Terminal 3
All other carriers (And Etihad Airways, Etihad Airways Partner except Terminal 3 carriers) Pakistan International, Air India, -Express, FlyNAS, Rotana Jet, Turkmenistan, Kish Air, Biman Bangladesh Etihad and Etihad Airways Partner (Jet Airways (JFK-flights) Air Seychelles, Virgin Australia, AirSERBIA, Air Baltic/CSA
Terminal 4
Midfield, Opening 2016 (Etihad Airways)
Spotting Information Ladder No, there is no need for it
Car Yes (serves as protection)
Restrooms Available at all publicly accessible buildings like restaurants or inside the terminal building
Drinks/Food There are supermarkets nearby the airport and food is available inside the airport’s terminals and around the airport are restaurants
Hotels There are two hotels nearby the airport. The “Airport Hotel” (*****) is immediately inside Terminal 1. Especial Recommendation: Premier Inn Hotel Abu Dhabi International Airport (***)
Season When visiting the UAE in the summer time, massive heat haze will be a problem which is far lesser in winter. Traffic is not dependent from season, Abu Dhabi Airport’s traffic is constantly the same during the year.
Spotting in the UAE is neither supported nor understood nor tolerated. Especially taking pictures evincing airport buildings or facilities will may cause problems and punishments (which can range from a check by police to imprisonment in worst case) by the police or airport authorities. we will not be liable for any inconviniences with local authorities. Spotting at Abu Dhabi airport AUH is at your own risk. Keep a low profile wherever you are. Information: our team hasn’t yet experienced any problems at Abu Dhabi airport which is attributable to extremely cautious behaviour and obeying of security tips. Please always adjust your behaviour when travelling into the middle east states including the uae to aviod inconveniences with the police. General tip for spotting in the middle east area: if you have a car, stow your camera underneath the seat or in the glovebox of the car. Have a map with you to fake a glitch or for an alleged planning of a route.
UPDATE – PLEASE NOTE: As of 30APR2015 we now caution you against doing spotting in the UAE as the situation has worsened sharply. Photography of airplanes in the United Arab Emirates is avenged and punished when being caught by authorities or police. Spotting in the UAE has become extremely dangerous and we advise everbody to keep this in mind when planning to go spotting at any UAE airport. At Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Al Ayn and Fujairah, spotting is highly hazardous. Dubai Airport is being checked by the police more regularly than ever before. Not even photographs not including airport facilities are not tolerated anymore. To learn more about the current circumstances, please refer to this link.
Runway Usage 13L/31R Depends on wind direction. Since runway 13R/31L underwent a major refurbishment, Abu Dhabi relies on a dual-runway-system which takes effect for this runway as follows (Can differ from traffic density):
Landings usually take place on 13L/31R
13R/31L Depends on wind direction. Due to works and maintenance which took place until early 2015 (originally projected to be finished in late 2014), traffic is being dispatched via 14L and 32R. As of early 2015, some movement are happening via this runway now again, but it may occour that this runway will be closed for a limited time again to do some final small works. If so, airport movements are taking place on 13L/31R.The dual-runway-system takes effect for this runway as follows (Can differ from traffic density):
Departures usually take place on 13L/31R

Spot #1 – Crowne Plaza Hotel Yas Island – 13R arrivals
WHERE You can easily spot airplanes directly from your hotel room at Crowne Plaza Hotel Yas Island. Ask rooms in the west wing of the hotel (additional building) as rooms in the eastern wing apparently do not offer a view onto approaching aircrafts.
WHAT Flight arrivals of runway 13R can be observed from here. Departures from runway 31L are high already and in a unprofitable angle.
TIME From noon to sunset
MISC. Angle is quite steep
FOCAL LENGTH 70-400mm – An aircraft such as a Boeing 777 may need 170mm, the Air Astana jet was taken at 250mm
Spot #2 – Yas Marina F1 track – 13R arrivals
WHERE This spot is located at the entry of Yas marina Formula F1 track. There are bus connections to Yas Marina Circuit. Google Maps coordinate: 24.474400, 54.602459
WHAT You can take photos of aircrafts approaching runway 13R
TIME Best light conditions are from sunrise until mid-day
MISC. Refer to the red box above for current spotting info! This spot offers aplenty of institutions such as restaurants, bars or restrooms.
FOCAL LENGTH 70-300 – Boeing 777: 190mm; Airbus A330-300: 220mm; Airbus A320: 290mm
Spot #3 – Morning spot 31L arrivals
WHERE Difficult of explanation but this spot is parallel of E11 to Dubai next to a huge palace at a roundabout. The street is not much frequented but stay in your car and always keep a low profile. Check maps.google.com for this coordinate: 24.421146, 54.679024
WHAT From this spot you can take pictures of all flight arrivals of runway 31L. When 13s are in use, heavy aircrafts can be photographed from here when they are fully loaded.
TIME Best light conditions are sunrise until mid-day
SECURITY Refer to the red box above for current spotting info! This spot is rather safe. Keep in car though and keep a low profile as set out above. Fake a glitch in case of checks by the police.
FOCAL LENGTH 70-300mm – Boeing 777: 160mm
Airbus A319: 280mm – Airbus A330-200: 200mm – Airbus A340-600: 160mm
Spot #4 – Breakdown lane E11 – 31L arrivals
WHERE This spot is located right on a breakdown lane on highway E11. If this is too risky for you, check Google Maps coordinate 24.410694, 54.682598.
WHAT Flight arrivals of runway 31L
TIME Mid-day until sunset
SECURITY Please note: Refer to the red box above for current spotting info! This spot is advisable for a short stop only! Fake a glitch and keep a low profile. Misuse of a breakdown lane in the UAE is illegal.
FOCAL LENGTH 70-300mm – Airbus A340-600: 85mm – Airbus A320: 160mm
Spot #5 – Premier Inn Hotel Pool Roof
WHERE +++ PLEASE NOTE: As of 24FEB2015 spotting from Spot #5 is strictly prohibited. The Abu Dhabi Airport Aviation Authority has forbidden any photography from the Premier Inn Pool deck. ‘No photography’ signs warns you of any inconveniences with hotel staff or ADEC. We are in contact with the hotel and hope this to have beneficial effects +++ You can easily spot airplanes directly from your hotel pool at Premier Inn Hotel Abu Dhabi International Airport. It’s best to take photos from the roof top. Taking photos from any room is not possible because of a building which blocks the view onto the airfield. There is a window in the level below the pool area (Level 5) which offers a view onto the runways and the maintenance area but taking photos from there is rather unprofitable.*
WHAT Flight arrivals of runway 31L/13R, taxiing airplanes to the terminal and all flight operations at Abu Dhabi Airport including the Presidental Flights. Be warned that you might experience strong heat haze with your shots taken during the day, even the larger aircraft can be affected by that. Days with strong winds will often result in less heat haze.
Please note: Runway 31L/13R was renewed until late 2014 and is still closed sometimes. It seems to be open for peak times.
TIME All day long. But heat haze will be less in the later evening.
SECURITY Spotting is safest from here. Smile and behave to make sure spotting remains tolerated by the hotel management. Hotel staff is very friendly and do support the hobby of plane spotting with huge interest.*
FOCAL LENGTH 70-400mm. Widebody aircrafts can easily be photographed at 300mm and less. Taxiing aircrafts in a size of a B777 may need 160mm and runway 31L/13R shots up to 250mm. Smaller aircrafts like the Dash 8s can be photographed at 400mm but heat haze could be a major problem.
Spot #6 – Afternoon Spot 31R arrivals
WHERE This spot is the same road like spot #3 but just more eastwards. After the roundabout just follow the road for 1 km and then park your car on the shoulder.


WHAT Runway 31R arrivals
TIME From noon to sunset.
SECURITY This spot is rather safe. Keep in car though and keep a low profile as set out above. Fake a glitch in case of checks by the police.
FOCAL LENGTH 170mm for an A346 and 350mm for an A320

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7 thoughts on “Abu Dhabi Airport Spotting Guide

  1. John Davis

    I’ve been looking online for details of how easy it is to spot from within the terminal. I have a 20hr layover soon and was wondering about windows with views.
    Any help gratefully received…

  2. Kai

    Spot #3 and #6 are currently not accessable as the road ends at the palace and last roundabout due to ongoing construction works in that area

  3. Mark

    Thanks guys. I’ll drop Sam a PM for his views, not worried about pictures, just registrations.



    1. MarlinMarlin Post author

      Hi Mark, mainly photography is prohibited by law, we are not sure, whether this ban is also holding watching and observing only. To aviod troubles, better ask the pool staff.

    2. JeremyJeremy

      Hi Mark, be careful about spotting in general in the UAE. The local police don’t like people taking pictures of military, government, police buildings, airport terminal, control tower, runways, etc and same for planes. They will asked you what are you doing, they check pictures on the camera and then you go with them to the police station or if you are lucky, they will allow you to take planes pictures. But keep in mind that if you make pictures as Marlin said in the guide, you really need to be careful and see everywhere if you see a police car and every arabic people because they can phone to the police and you can be in very troubles. Sam Chui also said that spot 5 was prohibited by the authorities. So be careful and as Marlin said, ask the pool staff if you are allow.

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