Memphis Intl. Airport Spotting Guide

Memphis International (IATA: MEM, ICAO: KMEM) is the busiest airport by cargo traffic of the United States. The airport is home to FedEx global hub and is home to many of the company’s triholers, like the MD-10 and MD-11. The FedEx operations are divided in four arrival and departure peaks. During the peaks, you will see 100 to 120 aircraft depart or arrive.

Formerly Memphis was used as a hub for Northwest Airlines, later Delta Airlines. Following the merger, most Delta operations were transferred to Atlanta (ATL). As a result, Memphis only transported 3.5 million passengers in 2014.

While the airport has some unique spotting locations, the police in the area is not used to a lot of spotting activities. Therefore always contact the Airport Police on: 001 (901) 922-8056. The officers are very friendly and tell you where and where not to go. Because some of the spots are in the Shelby County, you can be questioned by the Shelby County police officers. They also are friendly and helpful, but follow there orders.

Written by Bas Velders (last visited Oktober 2013)

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Airline Variety
Photo Locations
Weather
Airport Informations Runways 18R/36L 18C/36C
2.841 m (9,320 ft) 3.389 m (11,120 ft)
  18L/36R 09/27
2.743 m (9,000 ft) 2.727 m (8,946 ft)
Terminals Concourse A  Concourse B Concourse C
 Southwest  Allegiant, Delta All Other Carriers
Spotting Informations Ladder Not needed.
Car Advisable, but not needed for spot #1 & #2
Restrooms Inside the Terminal.
Drinks/Food Inside the Terminal.
Hotels On the northwest side of the airport are a some hotels and restaurants.
Season No special season.
Runway Usage  General info Aircraft will use the north-south runways most of the time. Especially during the FedEx arrival/departure peak hours.

FedEx arrival peaks: approx. 08:00 – 13:00 and 22:00 – 01:00

FedEx departure peaks: approx.02:00 – 05:00 and 14:00 – 17:00

Spot #1 – Parking Garage West
WHERE This spot is on top of the main parking garage. Walk to the west corner (beyond the terminal concourse). You will have a partly view of aircraft taxiing towards/from runway 18R/36L. On the north side of the parking garage (still being build when visited), there is a (much higher) garage for rental cars. You can try to spot from the top of this garages too.
WHAT Departures & arrivals runway 18R/36L. Passenger aircraft will exit the runway early and will be hidden by terminal concourse C.
TIME From early mornings untill noon.
MISC. All facilities are inside the terminal.
FOCAL LENGTH 100mm for a MD-10/MD-11, 150-180mm for a 717/737/A320.
Spot #2 – Parking Garage East
WHERE This spot is on the same main parking garage as Spot #1. Walk to the east corner (beyond the terminal concourse). You will have a partly view of aircraft taxiing towards/from runway 18C/36C and 18L/36R. On the north side of the parking garage (still being build when visited), there is a (much higher) garage for rental cars. You can try to spot from the top of this garages too.
WHAT Departures & arrivals runway 18C/36C and 18L/36R
TIME From noon till evening.
MISC. All facilities are inside the terminal.
FOCAL LENGTH 80-100mm for a MD-10/MD-11, 120-150mm for a 717/737/A320.
Spot #3 – Cell Phone Lot
WHERE To get to this spot, you can follow the signs ‘cell phone lot’. This is the former Hotel Radisson spotting location but it has been destroyed (google maps is not up to date, check street view instead). Drive all the way in towards the taxiway. Be careful, there are regular patrols by airport police on this lot. They do not like you taking photographs here. They will probably advise you to go to spot #1. It is advised to only take a few shots here and go to #1. You can shot over the fence as the runway is elevated.
WHAT Arrivals runway 18R, FedEx traffic on the taxiway.
TIME From early mornings untill noon.
MISC. There are no facilities here.
FOCAL LENGTH 20-40mm for all traffic on the taxiway.
Spot #4 – Nellie Road
WHERE Probably Memphis’ airport best and most famous spot! Exit the airport and go left onto Winchester Road. You will drive underneath the approach lights of runway 18R. Go left on Airways Boulevard until you are at Nellie Road. Park your car on the ramp just before Nellie Road. Inform the police when you arrive here to avoid to be send away! You can shot over the fence as the runway is elevated.
WHAT Departures runway 18R, Arrivals runway 36L
TIME From noon till evening.
MISC. There are no facilities here. The trees will provide you some shade.
FOCAL LENGTH 130-180mm for a MD-10/MD-11, 170-200mm for a 717/737/A320.
Spot #5 – Louis Carruthers Dr
WHERE This spot is located between the three main runways. Because the road is located lower than the runways, you will only see the aircraft while in the air. It is better to stay at Spot #5. The spot is accessible from E Shelby Drive on the south side of the airport.
WHAT Good for all runway 18 departures. It is not suitable for aircraft landing on one of the runways or 36 operations.
TIME Departures runway 18R (morning), departures runway 18C and 18L (afternoon).
MISC.  There are no facilities here.
FOCAL LENGTH 150-200mm
Spot #6 – Runway Rd
WHERE This spot is accessible from Swinnea Road. When driving on Runway Road, drive to the ABX/DHL Cargo Center. Near the fence there are some light poles, where you can photograph over the fence (the meshes of the fence are quite small). It is usually very quiet here, so you won’t be bothered, but you are on private property!
WHAT Departures runway 18C and 18L (morning). Taxiing traffic (militairy aircraft and DHL Cargo).
TIME  From early mornings untill noon.
MISC. There are no facilities here.
FOCAL LENGTH  200-250mm for runway 18L departures. 290-330mm for runway 18C departures.
Spot #7 – Wilson Air Center
WHERE The Wilson Air Center is not good for runway operations, but will always be worth a visit cause of the variety of military aircraft and general aviation that will be parked here. You can photograph through and over the fence at various points. Don’t stay too long, you are on private property!
WHAT  Ramp overview (General Aviation)
TIME All day long.
MISC. There are no facilities here.
FOCAL LENGTH  100-200mm
Spot #8 – Airport Center Ln
WHERE It is not often that runway 27 is in use. Most traffic will arrive on/depart from the north-south runways. To get there from the terminal, go towards Winchester Road in the East direction. Go left on Tchulahoma Road. Go left on Airport Center Lane and you will find yourself underneath the approach lights. If you drive a bit further, you can park your car along Air Center Cove.
WHAT Arrivals runway 27
TIME All day long.
MISC. There are no facilities here.
FOCAL LENGTH 100-120mm for a MD-10/MD-11,  120-180mm for a 717/737/A320.

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5 thoughts on “Memphis Intl. Airport Spotting Guide

  1. Brad T

    I agree. Spotted from the Rental Car/Parking garage Lvl. 7 2/25/17. The guide was very informative. Thank you for publishing this. I will for sure be back it was phenomenal.

  2. Tom Seagraves

    I was passing through Memphis yesterday (1/4/2017) and decided to do some plane spotting at Memphis. I called the number published above and spoke with the on duty police shift supervisor. He was very friendly and gave me advice on the best places to go for spotting. FedEx was busy and they were taking off to the north so we went to the roof of the West parking garage. I was expecting a little pushback from the police but the supervisor was welcoming to me and even said to call him back if I had any questions. We had a great time and got to see a bunch of heavies including several tri-holders. Thanks for publishing this info here. It was very useful.

    1. Bas VeldersBas Velders Post author

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the positive reaction. Great to hear you had a good day & this guide was a big help. Have you seen some FX A310’s too? Those are getting very rare these days. Have you tried to get on the larger parking garage north op spot 1? If you did, maybe you want to share some pictures via the contact form and we can expand the guide… 🙂

      Regards
      Bas

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