Phoenix Sky Harbor Spotting Guide

Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport is located 5 km southeast of the central business district in Arizona and serves appr. 20 Mio passengers a year. Its a hub for American Airlines and Southwest airlines. I estimate at least 80 percent of the the traffic is generated by these two carriers. So don’t expect a wide variety of airlines at this airport! But keep in mind that both airlines painted many aircrafts in a special livery and the chance to get one of these planes is very high, especially from American Airlines. The chance to have a cloudy and rainy day in Phoenix is pretty low and during the summer month its getting very hot there.
Written by Julian Mittnacht & Jan Seba / Last Update 2013

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Airline Variety
Photo Locations
Weather
Airport Information Runways 08/26 07L/25R 07R/25L
3.502 m (11.489 ft) 3.139 m (10.300 ft) 2.377 m ( 7.800 ft)
Terminals Terminal 2 Terminal 3 Terminal 4
Mainly United Mainly Delta American (North Piers)
Southwest Airlines (South)
Spotting Information Ladder Not required
Car Not required for parking garage spots
Restrooms inside the Terminal/Restaurants around the airport
Drinks/Food inside Terminal/ around the airport
Hotel a Hilton, Sleep Inn & Courtyard are located southeast of the airport (use priceline.com for best deals)
Season try to avoid the summer month as it will be very hot and cause heat distortion at some spots.
Runway Usage  08/26 This runway is mainly used for arrivals the whole day. No matter if 08 or 26 is in use
07L/25R Mainly used for departures the whole day
07R/25L Mainly used for cargo, military and general aviation arrivals.
usually from morning until noon, west-east direction is in use and switched then to east-west


Spot #1 – Terminal 4 Parking Garage – 26 arrivals, bridges Sierra, Tango,Romeo
WHERE Its located on the top of the Parking Garage of Terminal 4. You don’t need a car to get there if you arrive at the airport by plane or just use one of the public transportations. There is also a free shuttle bus who connects the terminals. Keep in mind parking is not for free at this spot.
WHAT There are two positions at the parking garage. One is on the west side of the garage, the other one on the east side.West: At this location, you get all the traffic which use RWY 26 for landing and you can make pictures from planes who exit this RWY when 08 is in use for arrivals. In the morning you can also make pictures from aircrafts use the bridge (taxiway Sierra and Tango), which is located between Terminal 4 and Terminal 3, and connects the northern and southern part of the airport. This spot is also perfect for close up shots of the aircrafts parked at the American gate as well as night shots. The southern part of the parking garage is also good for ramp pictures of the Southwest Airlines aircrafts, but it depends on the sun direction. For 25L arrivals its only good in the summer evenings.East: This one is on the opposite side of the spot mentioned above and is perfect if you wanna take pictures from aircrafts passing using the bridge/taxiway Romeo to get to the southern runways. Best time is from afternoon until evening.
TIME You can be there the whole day because the sun is behind you. Only in the summer month you have to move to the southern side of the terminals in the late evening hours. If the sun is down you can make stunning pictures of arriving aircrafts when RWY25R is in use.
MISC. Its very easy there to survive. The Terminal is located just behind you and you only need the lift to get access to all the stuff you need for a long visit. Only the seating accommodation is very low if you don’t have a car. Please keep in mind that it gets very hot in the summer month in Phoenix and you should take care of your skin. You can use a lower level if you want to stay in the shadow.
FOCAL LENGTH 50-400 mm (west), 150-300 (east)

SAMPLE PICTURES WEST SIDE:


SAMPLE PICTURES EAST SIDE:



Spot #2 – Terminal 3 Parking Garage – 08/26 arrivals and departures, taxiway Sierra & Tango
WHERE Its located on the top of the Parking Garage of Terminal 3. You don’t need a car to get there if you arrive at the airport by plane or use one of the public transportations. There is also a free shuttle bus who connects the terminals. Keep in mind parking is not for free at this spot
WHAT This is an alternative to spot 1 if RWY08/26 is in use. As the terminal is located in the middle of the airport, you only get shots from planes on the ground using the taxiways. In the evening you can also make pictures from aircrafts use the bridge (taxiway Sierre and Tango), which is located between Terminal 4 and Terminal 3, and connects the northern and southern part of the airport.
TIME You can be there the whole day because the sun is behind you. Only in the summer month you have to move to the opposite site of the terminals in the late evening hours. But I recommend this spot only in the evening to get the aircrafts that using the bridge.
MISC. Its very easy there to survive. The Terminal is located just behind you and you only need the lift to get access to all the stuff you need for a long visit. Only the seating accommodation is very low if you don’t have a car. Please keep in mind that it gets very hot in the summer month in Phoenix and you should take care of your skin. You can use a lower level if you want to stay in the shadow.
FOCAL LENGTH 100-200 mm
Spot #3 – Terminal 2 Parking Garage – 08 arrivals and departures
WHERE Its located on the top of the Parking Garage of Terminal 2. You don’t need a car to get there if you arrive at the airport by plane or use one of the public transportations. There is also a free shuttle bus who connects the terminals. Keep in mind parking is not for free at this spot.
WHAT The parking garage is not as high as the one on Terminal 3&4, so you are pretty low at this point. The advantage is that you are closer to RWY08/26 and the hold bay. You have less heat distortion here as you will get it on the other spots 1&2. This disadvantage is, that this one is only good for 08 arrivals and departures. You can miss some planes using 26 as they are already too high or exit the runway too early. There are also many light poles at this place so you have always be carful to find the right moment to take the picture.
TIME You can stay there the whole day because the sun is behind you. Only in the summer you get backlit pictures in the evening.
MISC. Its very easy there to survive as the terminal is behind you. Please keep in mind that it gets very hot in the summer month in Phoenix and you should take care of your skin.
FOCAL LENGTH 50-200 mm

Spot #4 – Salt River – 07L/R depatures and 25L/R arrivals
WHERE Its located at the dead end of the S 40th Street, next to the salt river. You can park your car here. The airport hotels are quite close.
WHAT Great location for the southern runways which are mainly in use for arrivals. Cargo and Military flights use this runways too.
TIME You can be there the whole day because the sun is behind you. Only in the summer you get backlit pictures in the evening.
Spot #5 – Cutter Aviation
WHERE I haven’t visited this spot but its a known place for local spotters. There is an observation deck on the Cutter terminal which you can visit and photograph the south ramp and the general aviation area. Official Website

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3 thoughts on “Phoenix Sky Harbor Spotting Guide

  1. Butch

    Has anyone staked out any spots west of the parallel main runways to shoot arrivals? Looking at Google Maps, someplace south of Maricopa Freeway, on E. Watkins St. might be a good place. There are a number of industrial/warehouse buildings there where you could potentially get too approach shots with the sun at your back.

  2. Lee mednick

    Just wanted to know if you have had any issue with security or law enforcement while at sky harbor. I know photography is not a crime but I’m curious if you experienced any thing and how you handled it

    1. JulianJulian Post author

      Hi Lee, non of our members had any trouble with airport security during their stay. The locations on the parking garages are well known spotting locations by the authorities.

      -Julian

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