Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) is a very good airport to take photo of aircraft. This post will give you all the information you need. I really encourage you to go visit Istanbul. A new, third, airport is going to be built in Istanbul. The first phase will be ready as early as 2017. So the nice spots at IST Ataturk might be gone in a couple of years..

Traffic is dominated by Turkish Airlines. I guess 80 to 85% of the traffic is Turkish Airlines. Also Onur Air and Atlas Jet are very active. The airport is open 24 hours so you might miss some Turkish Airlines aircraft as the arrive and depart in the middle of the night. Some very interesting airlines can be seen: Azerbaijan Airlines A340 and B767, Turkmenistan B757 and B737, Libyan Airlines, Buraq B737 and Afriqiyah Airlines. Mahan Air A310, Iran Air and ATA Airlines A320 from Iran. Iran Asseman A340 arrives in the night. Qatar A320, Iraqi Airways A320, Saudia A320 and A330, Ariana A310,Olympic Dash 8,Aeroflot IL96 are just a few examples. There are not many European airlines operating to IST. Major flag carriers do operate to IST but often limited to a single flight per day. China Southern operates a couple of times per week a B757. Sometimes an IL76 of Pakistan Airforce can be seen if you are very lucky.

While quite a few airlines not easily seen in other European airports visit IST, after a few days the traffic becomes a bit boring due to the domination of Turkish Airlines. Two, maximum of three days visit is what I recommend.

At IST there is a military airport as well. It is not very active however. You can seen around 10 shelters from Google maps. We say a Turkish airforce C130 and a Casa235 in the two days we stayed. Also  three Cessna trainers were active.

MNB and Turkish Airlines have a large maintenance facility at IST. We saw a China Eastern A300F and an China Southern A330 parked at the maintenance.

IST has some cargo flights mostly operated by Turkish Airlines Cargo and MNG Cargo. We saw three to four MNG A300Freighters arriving at IST at around 0800 each morning. They stayed at the cargo ramp for the whole day.

IST has three runways: 05/23, 18L/36R and 18R/36L. When we were there (in May 2013) runway 05 was used for landings, and 36L and 36R where used for takeoffs. Very rarely an aircraft used 18R for takeoff while 36L/R were the active runways. I guess 05 is used 90% of the time as the landing runway. Also here very rarely an aircraft lands on 36R while 05 being the active runway.
When 23 is used for landings, 18L/R are used for takeoffs. This is not a nice runway combination for photos.

To see the schedule of arrivals and departures the Istanbul Airport app is a great tool. Apps are available for Apple iPad, iPhone IOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile. Download here 

Another useful tool is Flightradar24. It offers a great way to see what traffic is coming to Istanbul. Using Flightradar24 we knew the Azerbaijan A340-500 was coming to IST about 1,5 before landing.  Flightradar24 has great coverage of IST airport.

Hotel
We stayed in the Radisson Blue hotel near the airport. Taxi drive from the airport cost around 15 Lira. Make sure you show the driver the exact address or otherwise he might have you believe he does not know where the hotel is. Taxi drivers do not like the short drive from the airport to the Radisson hotel.
Some of the rooms are modern, some are a bit old. We stayed in room 485 which was nice and had a great overview of the airport. Not good for photos but close to the spotting spots. Breakfast was 24 euro so we decided to have breakfast in the restaurant at the seafront. Much cheaper😉. Rooms have free Wifi although a bit hard to handle. Make sure you do not use the browser window in which you typed in username and password.

The photo below was take early in the morning from room 485  of the Radisson Blue hotel. Through glass and on a hazy morning.

view from hotel

Photo spots.
I have created a Google map showing the photo spots at IST airport.

IST offers some of the best spots for photography I have ever been to. There are two spots which both offers seats, food and drinks while taking photos. A car to reach those spots is not needed and is not advised because of the busy and chaotic traffic. Better to use a taxi. Fare for a 10 minutes drives is around 15 Lira.

First spot 1 for landings of runway 05. This spot is good from the early morning till around 1200. Then the sun is high and slowly you will facing the sun. To reach this spot which is at the seaside ask the taxidriver to bring you to a street named Florya Tesisliri. This is in a park next to the boulevard. You can take pictures from the boulevard or better, take a seat on the terrace of the restaurant close by. The restaurant is a bit elevated located on a hill which is around 20 meters higher than the boulevard. The restaurant opens at around 0800 and offers a buffet self service with coffee, French fries, hamburgers, fresh bread etc. From the terrace facing West you have a great overview of landing aircraft. Staff at the restaurant are used to plane spotters. As long as you buy some food and drinks you can sit here the whole morning. In two days we did not have any problems here.

4K-AZ85-AZAL-A340-500-1
Azerbaijan started at May 17 operating the new Airbus A340-500 from Baku to Istanbul. 4K-AZ85 is seen here landing at 05 taken from the restaurant at Florya park.

IMG_4638Photos landing 05 from boulevard IMG_1905 (1)terrace of restaurant
views-from-restaurantview from the restaurant on landings 05

At around 1200 the sunlight is not perfect. Time to move to another spot,
Spot 2 is located inside the Flyinn shopping center. This shopping center is next to the runway 36L/18R only separated by a busy road and the airport perimeter road.

You can walk from spot 1 to spot 2, This takes around 15 minutes. You can also take a taxi which are located at the exit of the Florya park exit.  A taxi ride is about 10 Lira or even less.

At the second level of the Flyinn there is a foodcourt. The foodcourt has an openair terrace with GREAT views of the airport. Photos of traffic at 36L/R and taxi traffic can easily be made. A A320 on 36L will need around 70 mm. We have been there two afternoons without any problems at all. The foodcourt has quite some restaurants like KFC and Burger King. Toilets are also at the same level in the back of the building. The basement has a large supermarket for drinks and food.

The Lavazzo café has free wifi. The password is:  espresso
Aircraft landing at 05 can be seen here as well but a bit far for decent photos.
When 18L/R is in use for takeoff photos can be made from the Flyinn. Although smaller aircraft are in takeoff at this point and might be a bit high. See this website for photos when 18L/R is in use.

There is another openair terrace at the southside of the Flyinn. This is located in the cinema located at the second floor as well. Enter the cinema and at the end there is a smaller terrace. It overlooks landing at 05 and lineup for 36  runways. Nice if you have large lenses as this is a bit further away from the runway then the big terrace with the seats and tables.

There are rumours the Flyinn shopping center will be closed and demolished in the near future. Unknown what is going to happen.

Lineup photos at 36L/R could be made while crossing the busy road. There is a gap between the fence and the concrete wall. However I did not try. A few of the watchtowers at IST are manned and I am not sure how the military or police will respond.

flyinnThe Flyinn shopping center terrace with overview of the airport. jordanianJordanian Embreaer taking off of 36L photographed from the Flyinn.

At the north side of the airport are the MNG maintenance facilities and hangers for bizjets. I believe some photos can be get there although we did not try. Close to the Radisson Blue hotel there is a footbridge crossing the busy road. From there some spots for photos might be found. We saw a Boeing BBJ and a nice Lockheed Jetstar parked at this area.

When runway 23 is used there is a good spot for photos at another shopping centre. It is called Ataköy Plus. You might get some strange looks from shoppers not used to aviation photographers. Closer to the threshold is a park where you can sit and take photos as well. The photo below was taken at the shopping centre and needed 163 mm. A Boeing 737 needs 180 mm.

This website has a nice report on spotting at IST including many photos.

http://www.dtvmovements.co.uk/Trips/Trips13/Istanbul.html Photo below copyright : Aidan Williamson

Photography from the domestic terminal is very limited. You need a boarding pass to see aircraft. Most of the windows have white stickers on it preventing reasonable photos. Also there is a lot of clutter. The only reasonable spot for photos I found was near the entry of the international airport for transfers passengers. The smokers cage near the foodcourt has some possibilities as well.

The international terminal has big windows which overviews the stands. Windows at the south side  have an angle and are tinted. The windows at the West side of the terminal are straight. Some photos of taxiing traffic and traffic on the 36R/36L can be taken when the gate is not taken by an aircraft.

Below a photo taken from the international terminal. The effect of the tinted glass is clearly visible. Clutter like aviobridges also clearly in sight.
ist-international-terminal

There is an aviation museum at the southside of runway 05/23. I have not been there myself.

Below an overview of the airport facing more or less south.

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