Zurich (ZRH/LSZH)
Guides Switzerland
Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 July 2013 15:19

 

Introduction

Zurich airport is the only airport of the city of Zurich, Switzerland's centre of finance and economy. Located 13km northeast of the city, it is Switzerland's biggest and most used airport; and the home of (among others) our national flag carrier, Swiss.

There are about 100 airlines offering around 160 connections to every continent in the world except Oceania. In 2003, the new Terminal E, also called "Midfield", was opened and included an outdoor observation deck. In November 2011, Terminal 2 opened where the famous Terminal B was standing before - bringing back the same great views from its brand new observation deck.

 

Operations

 

Runways

Rwy Length ILS Usage In use
10 2500m - Departing runway with strong winds from the east. No landings rare
14 3300m ILS Main landing runway during daytime, no takeoffs always
16 3700m ILS Main departing runway for heavies during daytime, rarely a landing frequently
28 2500m ILS Main departing runway during daytime, landings in the evening always
32 3300m - Departing runway in the morning, no landings medium
34 2700m ILS Landing runway in the morning, takeoff runway in the evening medium

Runway Usage Concept

In order to spread the noise evenly, an elaborate runway usage scheme has been worked out. This is always adhered to, except in very bad weather conditions. It might seem confusing at first - but once you're familiar with it, it's not that hard anymore!

Weekdays (Mo-Fr) Weekends (Sa/Su)* Runway Usage
06.00-07.00 06.00-09.00 Landing Rwy 34
Departure Rwy 28 & 32
07.02-21.00 09.02-20.00 Landing Rwy 14
Departure Rwys 28 & 16 (heavies)
21.00-23.59 20.00-23.59 Landing Rwy 28
Departure Rwys 32 & 34

* Public holidays in Southern Germany are treated as weekends. Those are: Jan 1 | Jan 6 | Good Friday | Easter Monday | May 1 | Ascension Day | Whit Monday | Corpus Christi | Oct 3 | Nov 1 | Dec 25 | Dec 26

Terminals and Aprons

Terminal/Apron Use
Terminal 1
(Gates numbered A)
Swiss/Star Alliance Schengen (Europe) only
Terminal 2
(Gates numbered B)
Swiss + Air Berlin Schengen/non-Schengen transfers
(Mostly European, but Longhaul flights possible)
Terminal E
(Gates numbered E)
Non Schengen (UK/Rest of World): Most Swiss Longhauls, all foreign Longhauls, most non Star Alliance European carriers. A380 parks at northwestern tip.
Aprons I/H/F Swiss Avros, Darwin, other commuters, some bizjets on F
Aprons C/D Some European scheduled flights (Iberia for example), low-revenue/charter flights (Swiss, Air Berlin, external companies)
Apron Whiskey Longterm biz-jet parking, cargo, VVIPs, Helicopters
Apron Tango Maintenance/SR Technics parking, some biz-jets maybe
Apron GAC General Aviation, small bizjets
Apron ExecuJet Bizjets of Execujet, CAT Aviation

 

Traffic

All traffic data as per summer timetable 2013.

Overview

  • Swiss Traffic: Flag carrier Swiss (RJ100, A319/320/321, A333, A343), Edelweiss Air (A320/A332/A333), Helvetic (F100), Hello (A320), Darwin (SB20)
  • European Traffic: Most European airlines have numerous services to Zurich, including rarer ones like Ukraine International (B737)
  • Longhaul: Heaps of Swiss Heavies, Middle Eastern, Asian and US intercontinental flights.
  • Cargo: There is only one scheduled cargo flight by Turkish Cargo using A310F. See below.

To be up to date in terms of traffic the best thing is to have a look at the official online timetable which even displays the registrations!
In order to display the registrations and aircraft types, enter "spotter" (all lower case) in the search field!

There are certain waves of traffic and there are times when the airport is almost dead. This graphic should help planning your stay!

 

Swiss airlines and their role in Zurich

The following Swiss airlines are based in Zurich or can often be seen here. Watch out for them - you don't want to miss the smaller ones!

Airline Fleet Regs Role
Swiss Intl Air Lines
(LX/SWR)

A343 x 15
A333 x 15
A321 x 08 (+ 1 in 2014)
A320 x 24
A319 x 06
RJ100 x 20
HBJMA - HBJMO
HBJHA - HBJHN (HBJHQ leased out to Edelweiss Air)
HBIOC/D/_/F/_/H/__/K/L/M/N
HBIJB/_/D/E/F/_/H/I/J/K/L/M/N/O/P/Q/R/S/_/U/V/W/X, HBJLP/Q/R/S/T
HBIP/S/T/U/V/_/X/Y
HBIXN - HBIXX, HBIYQ/R/S/T/U/V/W/_/Y/Z
Homebase, Hub

Specials:
A333 HBJHM - Swiss c/s, opr by EDW
A320 HBJLT - Sharklets
RJ100 HBIYS - Zurich Shopping
RJ100 HBIYU/IYV - Star Alliance
Edelweiss Air
(WK/EDW)

A333 x 1
A332 x 1
A320 x 4
HBJHQ
HBIQI
HBIHX/Y/Z, HBIJV
Homebase
(holiday flights & Swiss network)
Belair, Air Berlin c/s
(4T/BHP)

A320 x 6
A319 x 2
HBIOP/Q/R/S/_/Z, HBJOZ
HBIOX, HBJOY
Homebase
(holiday flights & standard AB network)
Helvetic Airways
(2L/OAW)

F100 x 6
A319 x 1
HBJVC/_/E/F/G/H/I
HBJVH (based BRN and GVA)
Homebase
(own schedule & Swiss flights)
Darwin (F7/DWT)
SB20 x 7 HBIYD, HBIZG/H/_/J/_/P/_/W/_/Z Based in LUG, flying LUG-ZRH for LX
Swiss Air Ambulance
CL604 x 3 HBJRA/B/C Based ZRH, ambulance/medevac flights

 

SWISS Widebodies

Of course, widebodies are always a special attraction. The SWISS widebodeis (A333 and A343) typically arrive and depart in waves. Those are:

Arrival Wave Departure Wave
Early Morning 06:10 LX289 JNB A343 daily
06:10 LX181 BKK A343 daily
06:10 LX179 SIN A343 daily
06:10 LX139 HKG A343 daily
06:15 LX087 YUL A333 daily
06:15 LX155 BOM A333 daily
06:20 LX243 DXB A333 daily
06:20 LX147 DEL A333 daily
06:25 LX293 NBO A333 12_4_67
08:00 LX017 JFK A333 daily
08:20 LX257 TLV A343 daily
Early morning arrival to Rwy 34, seen from spot 3.
Morning 09:25 LX292 NBO A333 1_3_567
09:45 LX154 BOM A333 daily
09:45 LX254 TLV A333 daily
09:45 LX236 CAI A343 1_3_5_7 
09:50 LX016 JFK A333 daily
Morning take-off from Rwy 16, seen from spot 3 as well.
Midday 10:50 LX015 JFK A333 daily
10:55 LX065 MIA A333 daily
10:55 LX053 BOS A333 daily
11:00 LX009 ORD A333 daily
11:05 LX093 GRU A343 daily
11:20 LX197 PEK A333 daily
11:35 LX019 EWR A333 daily
Midday arrival onto Rwy 14, seen from spot M7.
Midday 12:45 LX242 DXB A333 daily
12:45 LX146 DEL A333 daily
12:50 LX086 YUL A333 daily
12:55 LX008 ORD A333 daily
13:00 LX014 JFK A333 daily
13:00 LX160 NRT A343 daily
13:05 LX038 SFO A343 daily
13:05 LX188 PVG A343 daily
13:10 LX040 LAX A343 daily
13:20 LX064 MIA A333 daily 
13:20 LX196 PEK A343 daily
Classic Zurich midday take-off from Rwy 16, seen from spot 6.
Afternoon 15:40 LX039 SFO A343 daily
15:45 LX041 LAX A343 daily
15:50 LX161 NRT A343 daily 
15:50 LX189 PVG A343 daily
Late afternoon arrival onto Rwy 14, seen from spot 8.
Evening 17:25 LX018 EWR A333 daily
17:30 LX052 BOS A333 daily
Evening line-up onto Rwy 16, seen from spot 7.
Evening 19:10 LX255 TLV A333 daily
19:15 LX237 CAI A343 1_3_5_7
Evening landing onto Rwy 14, seen from spot 9.
Late Night 22:40 LX092 GRU A343 daily
22:45 LX288 JNB A343 daily
22:45 LX180 BKK A343 daily
22:45 LX178 SIN A343 daily
22:45 LX138 HKG A343 daily 
22:45 LX256 TLV A343 daily
Nightly take-off from Rwy 34, seen from spot 3.

Edelweiss Air widebodies

The two A330 of Edelweiss Air are fairly hard to catch, so here are their timetables (according to the Edelweiss Air website, summer 2013)

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturdaySunday
A330-300 HB-JHQ

17.05/18.45 ARR WK78 MBA from 8.7.13

09.20 DEP WK024 VRA

10.55 ARR WK025 CUN

13.35 DEP WK34 PUJ

10.20 ARR WK35 PUJ

13.00 DEP WK10 YVR

16.25 ARR WK11 YVR

13.30 DEP WK04 TPA

10.55 ARR WK05 TPA

12.40 DEP WK348 HER

19.45 ARR WK349 HER

21.45 DEP WK66 MLE

18.55 ARR WK67 MLE

21.00/22.35 DEP WK78 JRO from 7.7.13

A330-200 HB-IQI
Embarks on a world tour from 08.05. to 23.05.2013; no flights visible thereafter during the summer timetable.

ARR 18.30 WK71 MRU

22.35 DEP WK84 CPT from 30.9.13

06.10 ARR WK85 CPT from 2.10.13

13.40 DEP WK050 HKT from 30.10.13

15.40 ARR WK51 HKT from 31.10.13

09.30 DEP WK84 CPT from 1.11.13

09.55 ARR WK85 CPT from 2.11.13

14.40 DEP WK50 HKT from 26.10.13

15.40 ARR WK51 HKT from 27.10.13

17.55 DEP WK70 MRU from 29.9.13

 

Foreign Widebodies

Move your mouse over any red marked text for more information.

Airline Flight From/To ZRH Arr ZRH Dep Aircraft Frequency
Air Canada ACA878/9 YYZ 07.50 10.00 A333 daily Rwy 14 arrival,
spot nr. 9
American Airlines AA64/5 JFK 07.55 10.00 B763 daily Rwy 34 arrival,
spot nr. 3
Delta Airlines DL66/7 ATL 08.45 09.50 B763 daily Rwy 16 departure,
spot nr. 3
Delta Airlines (16.6.-1.9.) DL206/7 JFK 07.15 10.30 B752 daily Rwy 16 departure,
spot nr. 7
Emirates EK87/8 DXB 13.20 15.45 B77W daily Rwy 16 departure,
spot nr. 7
Emirates EK85/6 DXB 20.45 22.15 B77W daily Rwy 28 departure,
spot nr. M3
Hainan HU7957/8 PEK 06.35 13.20 A332 -2-4--7 Rwy 32 departure
(very rare),
spot nr. 7
Korean Air KE933/4 ICN 20.00 21.35 B772/W -2-4-6- Rwy 14 approach,
spot nr. 8
Oman Air WY151/2 MCT 07.20 11.55 A332 --3---7 Rwy 16 departure,
spot nr. 3
Oman Air WY153/4 MCT 18.55 22.15 A332 1---5-- Rwy 14 landing,
spot nr. 8
Qatar Airways QR061/2 DOH 07.15 11.20 B787 1-3-5-- Rwy 34 landing,
spot nr. 3
Qatar Airways QR063/4 DOH 14.10 15.40 B787 -2-4-67 Rwy 28 departure,
west of spot nr. 6
Singapore Airlines SQ345/6 SIN 08.00 11.45 A388 daily Rwy 16 departure,
spot nr. 1
Thai Airways TG970/1 BKK 07.25 13.30 A346 daily Rwy 14 landing,
spot nr. 9
United Airlines UA134/5 EWR 08.40 10.10 B764 daily Rwy 16 departure,
spot nr. 3
United Airlines UA936/7 IAD 08.05 11.45 B763 daily Rwy 14 approach,
spot nr. M7
US Airways US710/1 PHL 08.30 10.30 B762 daily Rwy 34 approach,
spot nr. 3

 

 

Cargo

These are the only scheduled cargo flights to Zurich (yeah, not much, I know!) as of summer 2013.

Carrier Day ZRH Arr ZRH Dep Acft
TK 6329/30 3 20.00 IST (via MJI) 21.15 IST A310F*
TK 6333/34 4 20.00 IST 21.15 IST A310F*
TK 6385/86 5 07.30 IST (via MAD) 09.00 IST A310F*
TK 6333/34 5 20.00 IST 21.15 IST A310F*
TK 6381/2 6 14.15 IST (via ALG) 16.00 IST A310F*

* Quite often, the flights are operated by an A300F of MNG, an A310F of ULS Cargo, or even an A330F of Turkish Cargo or MNG.

 

SR Technics Visitors

SR Technics is a popular provider of maintenance for A330, A340 and MD-11 aircraft, which is why Zurich receives a steady stream of maintenance visitors, with roughly one aircraft every two weeks. They don't appear in any timetables, so you still need a lot of luck catching them. Keep your eyes open, and watch the radar websites/apps for these recurring visitors.

Air Caraïbes A330 (usually inbound from ORY) Air Tahiti Nui A340 (usually inbound from CDG) World Airways MD-11 visit quite often Currently (May 04, 2013) on site at Zurich Air Greenland A330, visiting once every couple years inbound from CPH There's always a chance for a very rare catch. I don't expect this one to return anytime soon though! :)

 

 

ATC & Flight Tracking

ATC Frequencies

Using airband receivers in Switzerland is allowed. In fact they're hugely popular, and troubles with police are unheard of. Here are the most useful frequencies.

Station Frequency Remarks
ATIS Arrivals 125.725 Phone: +41 43 816 22 94
ATIS Departures 129.000 Phone: +41 43 816 22 95
Arrival West 118.000
Arrival North/East 131.150
Final 125.325 Between ARR and TWR during high traffic
Tower 118.100 All runways
Tower (secondary) 120.225 Rarely used, sometimes for arrivals (Rwy 14)
Apron North 121.850 North of Rwy 28
Apron South 121.750 South of Rwy 28
Clearance Delivery 121.925 All terminals
Departure 125.950 All departures

 

Flight Tracking

  • ZHAW Radar: Built by local students. Some ground coverage, too.
  • RadarVirtuel: Including amazing ground coverage all down to airport cars!
  • Flightradar24: Relatively good coverage, decent ground coverage, too.

 

Public Transport

Getting to Zurich Airport

Zurich airport is very well connected by public transport and there's no need to rent a car!

  • Train: Frequent direct trains to Zurich Main Station (Zurich HB, travel time: 9-12mins) and other major cities. Timetable
  • Tram: A tramway runs through the northern parts of the city to Zurich HB, travel time: 35min. Timetable
  • Bus: The airport's the main bus hub for the surrounding area with services to Glattbrugg, Rümlang, Oberglatt, Kloten, Bülach, etc. Timetable

Getting to the Spotting Points

All spots can be reached from the airport via public transport and a maximum of 20 minutes of walking. Spot numbers refer to the guide below.

  • Spots 1-5: At or near the terminal. See "getting to the Airport" above.
  • Spot 6: From Rümlang Bahnhof, you need to walk for about 15mins (1,3km). See the Google Map below for the walk. Getting to Rümlang is easy:
    • From the airport: Take Bus Nr.510 (heading for Stadel b. N., Neuwis-Huus) to Rümlang train station ("Rümlang Bahnhof"). The service runs hourly at :05 past the hour on all days. Travel time 11mins. Busses from Rümlang station back to the airport depart at :42, busses to the north (spots 7-9) at :15. Bus timetable: Click on a station to see when Bus 510 departs there.
    • From Zurich City (Zurich HB): Take the train to Rümlang (twice per hour, travel time 11mins). Timetables.
  • Spots 7-9: From Oberglatt Zentrum, walk for about 20mins to spot 7, 8 or 9. See Google Map below for the walks. Getting to Oberglatt Zentrum bus stop is easy:
    • From the airport: Bus Nr.510 (heading for Stadel) to the town center of Oberglatt ("Oberglatt Zentrum"). The service runs hourly at :05 past the hour on all days. Travel time 17mins. Busses back to the airport and to spot 6 leave at :36. Bus timetable: Click on a station to see when Bus 510 departs there.
    • From Zurich City (Zurich HB): Take the train to Oberglatt (twice per hour, travel time 17mins), then take the bus to Oberglatt Zentrum or walk 15min. Timetables.

 

Spotting Points

Check out an interactive Google Map of all spots, public transport points, hotels and walking paths!
https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zH19C7okkF6I.kyW4bfu3RC4k

Click on the picture for a larger map (2MB, perfect size to print on A4).

 

Spot 1: Observation Deck Terminal 2 (formerly Terminal B)

See spot on Google Maps

Since late 2011, the famous observation deck on top of Terminal 2 has reopened and is better than ever. The great views of heavies taking off Rwy 16 have remained the same, as have the apron views. There are heaps of new spotter gimmicks though: Interactive binoculars that show data for each aircraft you point at for example, or a walkable finger dock to allow a different angle of parked planes. The entrance fee is 5 CHF, annual passes can be had for 60 CHF. The observation deck also serves as a starting point for all other bus tours, be it the shuttles to Spot 2 (Observation Deck Terminal E), the apron tours, or the special WEF spotters' tours. It once again includes a restaurant, too. Check out the official website about the observation deck here.

Getting there From anywhere in the terminal complex, head for the check-in area of Terminal 2 and walk toward the side of the terminal that's farthest away from the airport roads. There are lots of signs leading the way to the observation deck, too.
Facilities Restaurant available - toilets, too.
Focal Length 30-50mm for aircraft taxiing past, 20-50mm for aircraft parked at the gates, 100-200mm for side-ons of Rwy 16 departures, up to 300mm-400mm for action shots
Views Planes departing on Rwy 16 (mostly widebodies), planes taxiing to parking areas in the south, planes parked at Terminals 1 and 2
Best Time First half of the day for Rwy 16 movements; whole day for gate action.
Attention Opening times: 8AM to 9PM in summer, 9AM to 6PM in winter. Entrance fee: Adults 5 CHF, kids 10-16: 2 CHF

View of taxiing aircraft (25mm)

Takeoff Rwy 16 (330mm)

Close-up on takeoff (380mm :-))

Side-ons on takeoff (54mm)

Gate views (18mm)

 

Spot 2: Observation deck Terminal E ("Midfield")

See spot on Google Maps

This second observation deck is located on top of Terminal E, which stands north of Rwy 28. This deck is much smaller in size, as it just occupies the western end of the terminal. Still, it puts you right in the middle of the action with good views on both departure runways. However, the action on Rwy28 takes place south of you, i.e. backlit.

With the old Terminal 2 observation deck reopened, it appears that this deck will only be open in the summer half (from April onwards).

Getting there Follow the way to Spot 1; busses for this observation deck depart from spot 1.
Facilities Vending machines for snacks and drinks (warm and cold); toilets
Focal Length 100-150mm for side-ons on Rwy 16, 200mm for Rwy 28
Views Planes departing Rwy 16 and 28, taxiing to Rwy 16, view on western gates of Terminal E
Best Time First half of the day for Rwy 16 shots
Attention Rwy 28 backlit all day. Observation deck closed in winter season 2011/12.
Taxiing to Rwy16 on Echo (100mm) Takeoff Rwy16 (120mm) Takeoff Rwy28 (200mm) Takeoff Rwy34 (260mm) Terminal action (150mm)

 

Spot 3: Car Park 3 - Rwy 34 spot

See spot on Google Maps

The 10 storey Car Park 3 is located on the western end of the airport buildings, abeam the threshold of Rwy 34. This spot is perfect to photograph early morning arrivals to Rwy 34 in summer with superb light! It also allows very scenic views of departures out of Rwy 16 later on, provided you have a long enough lens. Last but not least, you can see aircraft using the southern parking areas as well as all traffic taxiing to/from the maintenance base.

The one drawback is that the walls of the car park are made up by vertically placed lamellaes, about 30cm apart (see picture on the left). This can be annoying when taking pictures of moving objects, but you'll get used to it.

Parking tariffs can be found here, a map of all parking garages here.

Getting there You'll find elevators to the Car Park in the rearmost corner of the food court, near the train station. Follow the signs!
Facilities Lots of shops and restaurants as well as toilets just an elevator ride away in the terminal
Focal Length 150-200mm for side-ons of arrivals onto Rwy 34
Views Aircraft arriving onto Rwy 34 (early morning), taking off from Rwy 16, aircraft using parking stands south of Terminal 2 or going to maintenance
Best Time Early morning (Rwy 34 in use), first half of the day in terms of light
Attention

Arrival Rwy 34 (235mm)

Final approach to Rwy 34 (160mm)

Climbouts of Rwy 16 with scenic views (340mm)

Typical slow climbout from Rwy 16 (180mm)

Aircraft on their way to/from the southern parking stands and maintenance area (63mm)

View of southern stands (120mm)

 

Spot 4: Car Park 6 - Rwy 28 spot

See spot on Google Maps

The 11 storey Car Park 6 is located on the eastern end of the terminal complex - a 5 minute walk east of the exit of Terminal 1, heading towards the cargo area. This is the best point to photograph aircraft using Rwy 28 - you're looking right down on the treshold and also see the two taxiways leading there. This spot can also be used on the occasions where Rwy 28 is used for landings.

The one drawback is that the walls of the car park are made up by vertically placed lamellaes, about 30cm apart (see picture on the left). This can be annoying when taking pictures of moving objects, but you'll get used to it.

Parking tariffs can be found here, a map of all parking garages here.

Getting there (on foot:) Exit terminal 1 to the east (possible on both, arrival or departure level) and proceed straight ahead. Enter the first large parking garage you see. Signposted.
Facilities Shops, Restaurants and toilets in the terminal complex
Focal Length 200mm for medium sized aircraft on Rwy 28, 100mm for heavies
Views Aircraft arriving and departing from Rwy 28. Limited views of planes vacating Rwy 14
Best Time Whole day
Attention

Lining up Rwy 28 in the evening (250mm)

Aircraft taxiing to Rwy 28 (130mm)

Final Rwy 28 (250mm)

Flaring, Rwy 28 (120mm)

Long final Rwy 28 (400mm)

 

Spot 5: Final Rwy 28

See spot on Google Maps

Another quite famous point is located just behind the threshold of Rwy 28. If Rwy 28 is in use for landings (strong westerly winds, and regularly in the evening) you can see planes approaching very low over your head. This is most impressive with widebodies.

Photos of aircraft lining up and taking off are not possible as the view is too obstructed.

Because the planes are approaching very low, you might have to go away from the runway axis to get a better angle. This is no problem as you can easily move to the left and right.

Getting there (on foot:) After exiting terminal 1 to the east, continue walking eastwards, passing the Operation Center first, then the Cargo area, and finally the small General Aviation terminal. After that one, follow the small road that goes left and right again and is basically running right along the fence. After another 5 minutes you will have reached the spot. 15-20 min walk in total.
Facilities Closest facilities are at the terminal, a 15-20min walk away
Focal Length 20-50mm in the runway axis, a little more from the sides. 400mm for nice zoom shots (see Singapore below)
Views Aircraft landing on Rwy 28. Possibilities for line-up shots are very, very limited
Best Time All day, yet best in the evening light
Attention -

Very close to the action!

Spot overview (28mm)

Lovely evening views (400mm)

Planes are very close here!

Widebodies are most impressive

Shots onto the runway need a lot of luck

 

 

Spot 6: Heligrill (Rwys 16 and 28)

See spot on Google Maps

Probably the most characteristic Zurich spot, this one lets you get extremely close to the action. It is located on the western side of the airport, in the southwest corner of the Rwy16/28 intersection and therefore allows good views on both runways. This spot is most impressive during the longhaul outbound wave (usually between 12.30 and 2PM), but good all day.

The airport authority cut some 10 holes in the fence (big enough for all lenses), but they are quickly occupied on beautiful weekends! You can take your ladder with you if you wish.

Just south of the spot is the parking area "Whiskey", accommodating longstay biz-jets as well as large carge or VIP aircraft. Some of them can be photographed quite well, too.

Getting there See transport section above: Bus 510 from the airport to Rümlang Bahnhof (Rümlang train station), 15 min walk from there: Cross below the tracks towards the east. Continue walking eastwards, cross that red bridge, and continue eastwards on the paved road that leads towards and along the forest for another 10 minutes. It will take you all the way to the fence.
Facilities A small snack bar/grill is open year round. Basic toilet facilities.
Focal Length 40-80mm for side-ons on Rwy 16, 300-400mm for Rwy 28, up to 400mm for those action shots of takeoffs Rwy 16
Views Aircraft taking off Rwy 16 and 28, taxiing to Rwy 10 (rare). Limited views on Terminals 1 and 2. Aircraft parked on Whiskey stands.
Best Time Noon outbound wave and second half of the day for Rwy 16, all day for Rwy 28 movements
Attention Very popular spot; photo holes may be occupied particularly on sunny weekends.

Takeoff Rwy16! Great view, huh?! (110mm)

Close-up on TO Rwy16 (350mm)

Rotate! (400mm)

Takeoff Rwy28 (220mm)

Taxiing to Rwy10 (210mm)

Biz-jet on Whiskey stand (160mm)

 

 

Spot 7: Firefighters' Hill (Line-up Rwy 16)

See spot on Google Maps

This interesting point is located at the beginning of Rwy 16. On a small hill above the training area of the firefighters (note the derelict DC-8 used as a fire trainer), you have a wonderful view on aircraft lining up on Rwy 16. Aircraft landing on Rwy 16 can also be photographed from here, although this doesn't occur very often. Planes landing on the main landing Rwy 14 can be seen, too - both distance and heat haze make it difficult to get neat shots though.

The views are good and totally unobstructed. 90° shots are possible here while aircraft line up. But remember that most medium sized planes will depart from Rwy 28, so this spot is only good during the intercontinental outbound waves, usually between 12.30 and 2PM.

As this spot is part of a natural reserve, please take special care not to litter and whenever possible to stay to the marked paths when walking up and down.

If you prefer more action, you should head to Spot 6.

Getting there See transport section above: Bus 510 from the airport to Oberglatt Zentrum. Thence follow the directions on the map above until you get to a hill right next to the fence. Please take care not to enter the hill from its northwestern side (red dots). Instead enter it from the northeastern or southern side (both near the fence), where there are footpaths (green dots).
Facilities No facilities. Closest are at Spot 8, a 20 min walk away
Focal Length 100-200mm for side-ons on Rwy 16, 400mm for landings on Rwy 14
Views Aircraft lining up on Rwy 16, aircraft landing on Rwys 16 (rare) and 14 (far away, heat haze)
Best Time Second half of the day, best at the noon outbound wave
Attention Natural reserve - don't litter, stick to paths. Prone to heat haze on hot days. No facilities.
Spot overview (18mm) Spotting's easy here! (73mm) Lining up Rwy16 (340mm) Lined up (100mm) Landing Rwy16 Landing Rwy14 (400mm)

 

Spot 8: Final Rwy 14/16

See spot on Google Maps

This is one of the most popular spots. It's a parking lot on the main road from Oberglatt to Bülach, located right under the approach paths of Rwys14 and 16. The parking lot is surrounded by extensive farmland and a wide network of gravel roads. Therefore you can position yourself anywhere you want to get the perfect angle for your approach shots. You're very likely to bump into other aviation enthusiasts here - since all arrivals must pass this spot, it's the one place where you won't miss a single movement.

Getting there See transport section above: Bus 510 from the airport to Oberglatt Zentrum. Thence follow the directions on the map - walk along the main road that leads eastwards, heading to the next town of Bülach.
Facilities Snack bar and grill open year round, toilets. Ice cream sold in summer too!
Focal Length Depending on the angle, from 200mm unwards
Views Aircraft landing on Rwy 14 and 16 (rare)
Best Time All day, but mainly used as an afternoon spot
Attention

Standard approach shot (115mm)

Standing away from the runway axis allows you to include the scenery (160mm)

Looking down on Rwy14 (400mm)

Just north of the parking lot (200mm)

Welcome to Switzerland! (90mm)

 

Spot 9: Final Rwy 14

See parking lot on Google Mapssee 'real' spot on Google Maps

Within walking distance from Spot 8 there is another beautiful place, mostly suitable for photography in the first half of the day. When walking from Spot 8, the first spot you'll see is a car park located on the eastern side of Rwy 14, just before its beginning. This is the 'easy' spot which is also accessible by car. If you head down to the fence now and walk along it towards the south for about ten minutes, you'll finally reach a small hill. This allows for much better photos that include some scenery, too.

The best time to visit is in the first half of the day, prefereably during workdays (Mo-Fr) when Rwy14 is in use from 7AM. You'll get a bunch of heavies in beautiful light conditions here. But the spot is also excellent for sunset shots!

Getting there From spot 8, continue along the main road heading east. Just after crossing the runway axis, turn right. After a few hundred meters you'll get to a parking lot. Either remain there to take pictures, or head down to the fence, and follow the fence south for about 10 minutes, until a small mound comes in sight right behind the fence. Total walking time from spot 8: 15 to 20 mins.
Facilities Closest facilities are at spot 8
Focal Length From 100mm onwards for side-on shots
Views Aircraft landing on Rwy 14; sunset shots
Best Time First half of the day, best for the two inbound waves; late evening for sunsets
Attention

The parking lot offers standard approach views plus those here (200mm)

The spot on the hill is a bit more scenic (70mm)

Good positioning can also yield artistic shots here! (115mm)

Touchdown Rwy14! (400mm)

Sunset Landing Rwy14!

People enjoying an eve on the mound (130mm)

 

 

Minor Spots

The following spotting points are what I consider minor spots. While the main spots above are perfectly fine to get pictures of all traffic, you may want to add that special angle or two if you're on a longer visit. However, those spots are often harder to get to and may need a ladder. If you're just spending a day or two in Zurich, use the nine main spots above. If you've got a car (or bicycle!) and fancy exploring a little bit, give those spots below a go:

 

M1: Head-on shots of departures Rwy 16

See spot on Google Maps | see spot on Google Street View

This spot is created at a point where the main road (Flughofstrasse) climbs up a bit to pass over a secondary road (Rohrstrasse). Thankfully, this overpass is located right in the runway axis south of Rwy 16, allowing you to take head-on shots of those slow-climbing heavies. Light is good all day; though at least 400mm is needed. Do not park on the main road - instead head to the parking area near Spot M2 and walk up the slopes from there.


Looking along Rwy 16 (400mm)

Take-off on a winter's day (400mm)

The mighty A380 (400mm)

Decent climbout pics can be had, too (400mm)

 

M2: SRTechnics

See spot on Google Maps

The parking lot at the end of Rwy 16 is located next to the SRTechnics apron. You may be able to get a shot if a maintenance visitor is parked the right way. Airbus planes of many a company are overhauled in Zurich, as are some MD-11, for example of World Cargo. A ladder is highly recommended - with a little luck, shooting through the fence is possible, too.


Parked at SRT (120mm)

Parked at SRT (85mm)

Parked at SRT (95mm)

 

M3: Head-on shots of departures Rwy 28

See spot on Google Maps

There's a point in the extension of the runway axis of Rwy 28, where a small unnamed service road crosses over the main road (Flughofstrasse). From that bridge, you have nice views down on Rwy 28 and can get decent take-off shots. This spot makes most sense for the few heavies that use Rwy 28 (Emirates and Qatar on dry, not too warm days; maybe some empty cargo planes). Once again, 400mm are required. A ladder is not needed here. You can even take shots onto Rwy 16, but it's rather far away and heat haze will be a special problem there.


DC-10 taking off (400mm)

Emirates Triple Seven (365mm)

Airbus A320 (400mm)

Departure Rwy 16 (400mm)

 

M4: Late summer eve Spot

See spot on Google Maps

This spot has lots of limitations, yet the shots taken are quite rewarding. Located in the northwestern corner of the intersection of Rwys 16/28, its main purpose is to take pictures of movements on Rwy 28. It can also be used to take pictures on Rwy16/34, should anything be happening there (rare). However, since you're facing south, the only time this spot makes any sense is in the last hour of daylight during the three summer months - when the sun gets around to the northern side. In addition, it requires a long and strenous walk of about 25 min to the closest car park. Last but not least, you'll need a ladder here.

As this, too, is a nature reserve, please take extra care not to step on any important plants and not to leave any rubbish behind.


Early evening TO Rwy 28 (300mm)

Late evening TO Rwy 28 (400mm)

Turning off Rwy 28 (220mm)

Departure Rwy 34 (135mm)

 

M5: Touchdown Rwy 14

See spot on Google Maps

There's a bike and hiking path running along the whole length of Rwy 14. So provided you have a ladder with you, you can position yourself anywhere you like. As an alternative if you don't have a ladder and still want to shoot some touchdown shots: Along that path, a little south of the touchdown point, is a single park bench. Standing on that one enables you to peek over the fence and get your shots. Three people should fit on there I'd guess - first come, first serve! Heat haze is a problem here on warmer days. At least 200mm focal length is advisable.


Touchdown (400mm)

After touchdown action (400mm)

Side-on shot of a late landing (220mm)

Close-ups are neat, too! (320mm)

 

M6: Final Rwy 14, long distance shots

See spot on Google Maps

The main road running east of Rwy 14 is slightly elevated - just enough to let you catch glimpses of the approaching airplanes at some positions. If you've got a good zoom lens, a clear and preferably cold day and some widebodies due to land, you can get nice photos including some lovely Swiss scenery here. Check the Google Maps link above to see the exact location of my usual spot - following a small forest road breaking off from the main road uphill lets you gain some final meters of additional elevation. Obviously, this spot is best used during the first half of the day, preferably in the early morning when it's colder.


Scenic approach shots (400mm)

Beautiful shots during flare (320mm)

Touchdowns are just barely possible, too (235mm)

Careful positioning even lets you capture the fortified town of Regensberg on the shot (400mm)

 

M7: Climbouts Rwy 16, long distance shots

Spot M7A on Google Maps | Spot M7A on Street View | Spot M7B on Google Maps | Spot M7B on Street View

The conditions here are similar to spot M6 above, only that this road here is even a bit further away for the action. You will need at least 400mm even for the largest widebodies out there. If this is the case and the conditions are clear and cold, two spots from the main road (Glattalstrasse) running along the hills west of the airport allow for some scenic climbout pictures. The first spot (M7A) is located at the western end of the hamlet of Letten and provides views of the initial climbout stage, featuring airport buildings and residential houses in the background. The second spot (M7B), located 800m south, has better views of the later climbout stages and a more natural picture setting.


Climbout in front of Terminals 1 and 2 (M7A, 400mm)

Some seconds later :) (M7A, 400mm)

Beautiful on winter days, too! (M7A, 400mm)

Beautiful composition from spot M7B (400mm)

 

 

 

Itinerary for a complete day at Zurich Airport

It is based on a summer's day with standard runway usage on weekends. Check ATIS!


TimeWhat to see and do
6AM-9AM The day begins at 6AM in Car Park 3 (spot 3). Before taking the elevators up there you can buy your breakfast in the airport food court. You will see all the early morning inbounds onto Rwy 34 in beautiful light, with a fair share of widebodies.
9AM-12AM Runways are switched at 9AM (7AM on weekdays!), with Rwy14 becoming the landing runway and Rwys 28 and 16 used for departure. Now you can head to one of the observation decks (spots 1 or 2) to prepare for the first widebody take-off wave off Rwy 16 around 10AM. The Singapore A380 (departing around 11AM in winter and 12AM in summer) looks stunning from here. Its take-off usually marks the time to head on.
If you prefer, you can also stay on Car Park 3 - with a long lens, take-offs from Rwy16 can also be captured from up here (and it's free! :-)) 
12AM-2PM Be sure you're at the Heligrill spot (spot 6) at 12:45 the latest, when the extremely busy noon outbound wave kicks in. Dozens of European flights depart from Rwy 28, while all the widebodies use Rwy 16. This wave lasts until about 2PM - afterwards, the airport is virtually dead. Grab a bite to eat, either at the spot's grill or in the nearby McDonalds.
3PM-8PM In the early evening, there is the next arrival wave, which you don't want to miss. Catch Bus 510 on to Oberglatt and place yourself at Spot 8 for landings Rwy 14. Between 3PM and 4PM there are 4 Swiss A340s arriving (LAX, SFO, NRT, PVG). Another two will land after 7PM (CAI/TLV). You can stay at this spot until sunset if you like.
8PM-bedtime Runways are switched again at 8PM (9PM on weekdays!). Take Bus Nr. 510 back to the airport. If you are still alive and not fed up with spotting yet, you can then go to Car Parks 3 or 6 and try some night shots. Around 10PM, six Swiss A340 will line-up and depart from Rwy 34 - they can be seen from car park 3.

Well done, you've just spent 15 hours at Zurich airport (and just as much time reading this guide I guess ;-)) !

 

Accomodation

Hotel Park Inn Zurich Airport/Rümlang ****

This is my preferred hotel to recommend if you're on a true spotting holiday. It is located just west of the airport fence - a 10 minute walk from the fantastic Spot Nr. 6 (Heligrill). In addition, a bus stop for Bus 510 taking you to the other spots and the terminal is just a stone's throw from the hotel (the stop is named Rümlang Rümelbach, northbound busses depart at :13, south/airport bound busses at :45 - click on the Rümmelbach stop here to check the timetable). There's a McDonald's right next to the hotel, and the Rümlang train station with frequent commuter trains to downtown Zurich is just a 15 min walk away. The hotel features a free airport bus, too.

Spotters who have stayed at the Park Inn have written favourable reviews. Cleanliness and proximity to the spotting locations and bus stops was considered very helpful. If you want to write a review, contact me!

Check out the hotel's website, and its reviews on Tripadvisor.

 

Hotel Holiday Inn Express/Rümlang ***

This hotel opened up in 2009 only a few steps from the Park Inn. While I haven't heard any personal impressions from planespotters, Tripadvisor reviews are favourable and it has all the same advantages of the Park Inn location-wise. Definitely worth checking out, too!

Check out the hotel's website, and its reviews on Tripadvisor.

 

 

Various hotels in Kloten

There are several hotels in the city of Kloten, which borders the airport at its eastern side. Location-wise they're less ideal for spotting (even more so if you don't have a car). Yet, they're in the hearth of a city and closer to the commuter train station - if that's more important to you. Kloten Hotels include:

 

Hilton Hotel

If you want to splurge a little, the Hilton - also a popular crew hotel - may be your choice. While it's not that close to the various spotting points, and there's not much in terms of restaurants and bars nearby, you can see arrivals onto Rwy 34 and slow-climbing departures out of Rwy 16 from here.

Hotel Website | Tripadvisor reviews

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 July 2013 15:19
 
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