Yellowknife Intl. Airport & Waterdrome – Spotting Guide

Yellowknife Airport (YZF/CYZF) is one of the busiest airports in Northern Canada. It is also called: “The Gateway to the North”, due to the fact that is is the major hub for Northern Canada and there are many aircraft making a stopover on the way further North. The airport handled about 550.000 passengers in 2016 and is home to a variety of airlines: First Air, Air Tindi, Summit Air, Canadian North, North-Wright Airways and the famous Buffalo Airways. Some rare aircraft types can be seen here in active duty: Curtiss C-46D Commando, Lockheed L-100 Hercules, L-188 Electra, De Havilland Canada DHC-4, DHC-7 and the Canadair CL-215 are just some of the examples.

YZF has very cold winters and mild to warm summers. The average temperature in January is around −26°C / −15°F (with 1 or 2 sunhours a day) and 17°C / 63°F in July (13 sunhours a day). Therefore the best period for spotting is from April to August. Keep in mind that the sun shines in the summer from approximate 03:00 until 22:00. But movements are very low so you have to spend some hours to catch a few flights or use it to visit one of the many interesting ramps.

Yellowknife Waterdrome (CEN9) is the water aerodrome of Yellowknife. It is located just north of the city center, on both Back Bay and East Bay of Great Slave Lake. This water aerodrome is home to Air Tindi, Summit Air, Buffalo Airways (with one of the few Noorduyn Norseman V) and lots of private aircraft.

Written by Bas Velders, Jan Seba and Julian Mittnacht (visited June 2017)

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Airline Variety
Photo Locations
Airport Information Runways 16/34  10/28
2.287m (7,503 ft) 1.524m (5,001 ft)
Terminal Terminal
Used for all Acitivities, because there is just one.
Spotting Information Ladder Not needed, but can be helpful for the aprons.
Car Not required for the major locations, but necessary depending on the wind direction and helpful to get to the seaplane base.
Restrooms In the terminal.
Drinks/Food In the terminal.
Hotels In the city (10 minute drive)
Season From April to August is the most sunshine and the longest days.
Runway Usage  General Info Used in all directions.
Larger aircraft will prefer to use runway 16/34.
If there is no or less wind (below 10kts), smaller planes prefer the runway with the shortest way to their hangars so a scanner can be useful! This many oftentimes Buffalo, Tindi and Summit Air will be coming in on RWY 10.

Spot #1 – Terminal
WHERE Just south of the airport terminal there is a spot overlooking some of the aircraft stands. There is a fence, so a small step could be handy. You can also see some of the apron of the First Air hangar. This spot is located on a staff parking lot. So, if traveling by car, take your shots and go.
WHAT Apron shots / taxiing traffic.
TIME Early morning and  late evening (in summer)
MISC. In the terminal you will find everything you need.
FOCAL LENGTH ~ 40mm – 200mm


Spot #2 – Yellowknife Hwy – Arrivals runway 16 (morning)
WHERE From the terminal, take a left turn onto the Yellowknife Hwy/Frontier Trail and follow it for just a few meters. Park your car on the side along the road near the lake. You can also walk from the terminal!
WHAT Arrivals runway 16. You can easily move around here and choose your location based on preferred angle and distance.
TIME In summer from sunrise till noon.
MISC. There is nothing there.
FOCAL LENGTH 100mm – 300mm, depending on the preferred angle.


Spot #3 – Yellowknife Hwy – Arrivals runway 16 (evening)
WHERE From spot #2, drive a bit further and park your car alongside the road on the gravel area.If you are just stopping for a quick picture you can also stop directly on the gras next to the road.
WHAT Best for 34 arrivals and its possible to shot some line ups if you are on the mound but you have parts of the fence in your picture. You can easily move around here and choose your location based on preferred angle and distance for arrivals.
TIME In summer from afternoon till sunset.
MISC. There is nothing nearby.
FOCAL LENGTH 732 = 130mm; Dash7 = 190mm


Spot #4 – Berry St./Buffalo Airways
WHERE From the terminal, drive on to Bristol Ave. After the first apron, turn right on Berry St. Drive to the end to the Buffalo Airways office, shop and hangar.
WHAT Yellowknife is the largest Buffalo Airways hub in Canada. It is possible to book Buffalo hangar tours here. It is a great opportunity to see some special and rare aircraft from nearby. A tour takes about 1 to 2 hours.
TIME Due to the different angles, all day long.
MISC. There is a Buffalo Airways merchandise shop at the hangar and there are restrooms here.
FOCAL LENGTH ~ 20mm – 100mm
Spot #5 – McMillan St. – Departures/Arrivals runway 28
WHERE From the terminal, drive on to Bristol Ave. After the second apron, turn right on McMillan St. Alongside this road, there are several opportunities to get some apron shots. On the end of the road, all departures and arrivals of runway 28 can be photographed.
WHAT Runway 28 departures/arrivals. Apron shots of Air Tindi, Summit Air aircraft.
TIME In the summer early morning and late evening for the runway.
MISC. There is nothing nearby.
FOCAL LENGTH  ~ 70mm – 100mm
Spot #6 – Park – 34 arrivals
WHERE  At the end of Banket Rd there is a park and some baseball fields. From the airport drive on the main road to the city and at the hospiital turn right into the Range Lake Rd. Take the next right into Finlayson Drive and then all the way up until the corner Banket Rd where the park is located.
WHAT Arrivals on 34 only but not suitable for small props due to the large distance.
TIME In summer from sunrise till noon.
MISC. There is nothing nearby.
FOCAL LENGTH 733 = 260mm; Dash7 = 400mm.

Spot #7- Forrest – 10 arrivals
WHERE From spot 2 & 3 continue westwards on the McKenzie Hwy and after you have passed the approach path turn left into Deh Cho Blvd. After a few meters take the next left into a dirt road and after a few meters you will see a flat area to your right. Park and stay there.
WHAT Arrivals on RWY10 only. If there is less wind (below 10kts), it is the preferred runway for operators located on the east ramp like Buffalo or Air Tindi because they are closer to their hangars.
TIME In summer from noon till late afternoon.
MISC. There is nothing nearby.
FOCAL LENGTH ATR72 = 140mm; PC-12 = 380mm
Spot #8 – Yellowknife Waterdrome (CEN9) & Bush Pilots Monument
WHERE If you visit Yellowknife, you have to visit CEN9 too. From YZF, drive on to the Hwy towards the city of Yellowknife. Turn right on 48st to the city center. Turn left on 50th Ave, until you reach the water aerodrome.
Park your car at the monument and walk around the aera to discover all the seaplanes parked at the different landing stages.
WHAT The area is packed with seaplanes. Some of the airlines at YZF have an office at the waterdrome too, like Buffalo Airways, Air Tindi and Summit Air.
From the Bush Pilots Monument you have a nice 360 degree view of the Yellowknife Waterdrome.
TIME Depending on the location, all day long.
MISC. There are some cafés and bars along the peninsula.
FOCAL LENGTH ~ 20mm – 400mm

Taken from the Bush Pilots Monument:

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2 thoughts on “Yellowknife Intl. Airport & Waterdrome – Spotting Guide

    1. BasBas Post author

      Hi Phely Dane. Your welcome! Have a great trip and don’t forget to share some of your pictures with us when you are back! 😉

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