Calgary Spotting: An Afternoon Walk Around Canada’s Fourth Largest Airport

Having had over nearly 200 thousand movements and served over 14 million passengers in 2022, Calgary International Airport is the fourth busiest airport in Canada after Toronto Pearson, Vancouver International, and Montreal Trudeau International Airport. In addition to WestJet which has by far the most flights in and out of the airport, Air Canada, Lynx Air, and Flair Airlines also have a sizeable presence there.

What you might also find interesting, though, are some of the aircraft – both active and in various states of disrepair – that can be seen parked along Calgary Airport’s southern perimeter. Those actually turned out to be the highlight of the few hours I had to do plane spotting in Calgary on my way to Yellowknife. As a nice bonus, they were just a short walk away from my hotel – the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Airport-Calgary – which I, in fact, chose because of its location.

Continue reading to learn more about the locations I visited and the planes I saw.

Calgary Airport Spotting
Headed in the right direction.

Catching WestJet’s Disney Magic Plane Along McKnight Boulevard

With the weather not cooperating during my visit to Calgary, I wasn’t planning on doing any plane spotting along the runways. That said, I changed my mind when I saw on FlightRadar24 that one of WestJet’s two Disney Jets – the Mickey Mouse-themed 737-800 registered C-GWSZ – was scheduled to arrive from Victoria at 3:08PM.

I left my hotel with what I thought was enough time to get to near runway 35L which the flight typically lands on when aircraft arrive from the south. The flight landed a bit early, though, and so I could only see it in the distance. Since, as mentioned earlier, the weather wasn’t ideal, after getting a distant photo of the Disney Jet, I decided to go see some of the aircraft parked along the perimeter instead of continuing to spot landing aircraft.

Unfortunately, WestJet’s other Disney Jet – the Frozen-themed 737-800 registered C-GWSV – didn’t operate any flights to/from Calgary on the day of my visit.

WestJet Mickey Mouse Landing at Calgary
WestJet’s Mickey Mouse-themed aircraft landing.

White Dash 8s, a CHINARE BT-67 & More Along McTavish Road

My first stop after the failed attempt to get the Disney aircraft was McTavish Road NE, a U-shaped road that, perhaps most interestingly, runs along an apron that I believe belongs to Avmax Group. The apron is home to quite a few Bombardier aircraft in various states of disrepair.

While I will talk about some aircraft in the same area that could be seen better from a different spot later on, three Dash 8s were parked next to each other behind the fence facing McTavish Road NE and could be photographed:

  • N990AV – A Dash 8-100 first delivered to Henson Airlines in 1988 and last operated by Presidential Airways. The aircraft has been stored at Calgary Airport since 2016 and wore an all-white livery when I saw it.
  • C-FWLK – A Dash 8-300 originally delivered to Antillean Airlines in 1990 and last operated by R1 Airlines. The aircraft was in an all-white livery with a large “R” on its tail making it look like it belonged to Pokemon’s Team Rocket.
  • C-GWRI – Another Dash 8-100. This one was first delivered to Germany’s Contact Air in 1988. Most recently, it appears to have been operated by Aspire Airlines and Summit Air.

Behind the three aircraft above was one more Dash 8 – a Dash 8-200 in full Avioandes livery. Unfortunately, while that one was the most interesting one, its location made it impossible to photograph.

Calgary Airport Stored Dash 8s
Stored Dash 8s.
Dash 8-100 Parked at Calgary Airport (C-GWRI)
C-GWRI.
Dash 8-300 Parked at Calgary Airport (C-GWRI)
C-FWLK.

Near the Dash 8s was perhaps the most interesting aircraft I saw that day – a Basler BT-67 registered C-FGCX. The BT-67 is a modified DC-3 that is extensively used in Antarctica. This particular airframe was made for the US Air Force in the early 1940s as a C-47. It was converted to a BT-67 in the early 2000s/2010s and acquired by Kenn Borek Air in 2015.

What made the aircraft interesting was its livery. Sporting “CHINARE” and Chinese titles, the aircraft was most recently operated by Kenn Borek for the Chinese National Antarctic Research Expedition.

It was also nice that the CHINARE Basler BT-67 was parked next to a Canadian North Boeing 737-700 – one an old aircraft with extensive experience operating in the harsh environment of Antarctica and the other a fairly new aircraft with extensive experience operating in the subarctic climate of Northern Canada.

CHINARE BT-67 (Kenn Borek) at Calgary Airport
CHINARE BT-67.
CHINARE BT-67 and Canadian North 737-700 at Calgary Airport
CHINARE BT-67 and Canadian North 737-700.

From the same area, I also saw a Summit Air Dash 8-300 taxiing out for what appears – based on FlightRadar24 data – to have been a training flight or something similar departing from and arriving back at Calgary.

I also saw a Northern Air Beech 200 Super King Air being towed in front of one of the hangars.

Summit Air Dash 8-300
Summit Air Dash 8-300.
Northern Air Beech 200 Super King Air
Northern Air Beech 200 Super King Air.

Further down along the street was a parking lot that offered some views of runway 35L action through a chainlink fence. I stayed there for a few minutes and in that time got a Porter Airlines Embraer E195-E2s arriving from Toronto and an Air Canada Express Dash 8-400 in the airline’s “new” livery.

The E195-E2 was particularly nice to see considering I haven’t seen many of the type yet and that I only saw Porter Airlines’ Dash 8s when I visited Toronto Billy Bishop Airport a few years back.

In hindsight, I should have also tried to get the Disney 737 here rather than near the approach path.

Porter E195-E2 at Calgary Airport
Porter E195-E2.
Air Canada Express Dash 8 Q400 at Calgary Airport
Air Canada Express Dash 8 Q400.

Lastly, tucked away behind the building was a trio of DHC-6 Twin Otter fuselages.

One of those was DU-SD4 – a Twin Otter that used to be owned by Skydive Dubai and operated out of Palm Drop Zone Airstrip.

DU-SD4 and Other Twin Otters in Calgary
Twin Otter… Or what is left of them.

Partially Scrapped CRJs & More Along McCall Way NE

From the location above I continued to McCall Way NE. There was a grassy patch along the fence which offered views of multiple Bombardier CRJs that lacked landing gears and horizontal stabilizers among other things.

The three easily visible from here included C-FWJB, C-FVMD, and C-FSKE – all ex-Air Canada Jazz CRJ-100s delivered in 1995 and retired in 2012. Interestingly, while they were in an all-white livery, their winglets still wore (some) of the color they used to. As such, it was possible to tell which color Air Canada Jazz livery each aircraft wore back when it was active.

While there were some other aircraft as well, some of those were not visible clearly and others were more easily visible from another spot. I will talk about the latter in the next section.

Calgary Airport Stored ex-Air Canada Jazz CRJs
Ex-Air Canada Jazz CRJs.
Calgary Airport Stored ex-Air Canada Jazz CRJ
C-FSKE.

In addition to the CRJs, there was also a Twin Otter fuselage. While the registration was not visible, it wore Kenn Borek Air’s red livery.

Kenn Borek Twin Otter
What remains of a Kenn Borek Air Twin Otter.

Lastly, a Swearingen SA227-AC Metro III without props registered C-FAFR was visible from this location too. Later on, another Metro – this time with props and active – was placed next to it.

Swearingen SA227-AC Metro III at Calgary Airport (C-FAFR)
Swearingen SA227-AC Metro III.

Canadian North Specials & More from Palmer Road NE

Next, I walked over to Palmer Road NE where hangars and terminals of some of the airlines operating out of Calgary can be found. Additionally, some of the nooks and crannies of the street also offered views of aircraft parked on/around the Avmax Group and Kenn Borek Air aprons.

Starting with those, some interesting aircraft could be seen from a gate near Canadian North Flight Center and some other gates along the road.

Canadian North Terminal at Calgary Airport
Canadian North terminal.

There were two CRJs on the Avmax apron that were inactive but appeared to be airworthy:

  • CRJ-900 which appears to be registered C-GXIG and used to be operated by Nigeria’s Arik Air as 5N-JEB. It still wears the airline’s full base livery.
  • CRJ-200 freighter registered XA-MCQ which used to be operated by Mexican cargo airline TUM AeroCarga and still wears its full livery.
Ex-Arik Air CRJ-900 at Calgary Airport
Ex-Arik Air CRJ-900.
TUM AeroCarga CRJ-200 at Calgary Airport
TUM AeroCarga CRJ-200.

Additionally, a number of Dash 8s and CRJs scrapped to one extent or another could be seen from here. Some of those were the same aircraft that I photographed from McCall Way NE.

C-FYDH Stored at Calgary Airport
Dash 8 and CRJs.
C-FVMD Stored at Calgary Airport
C-FVMD.
Dash 8 Fuselages at Calgary Airport
Dash 8 fuselages.
Ex-Air Canada Jazz CRJ Stored in Calgary
Ex-Air Canada Jazz CRJ.
C-FYDH Dash 8 Stored at Calgary Airport
C-FYDH.

Active aircraft including a Kenn Borek Air Twin Otter and the CHINARE BT-67 that appeared earlier in the article could be seen in the distance too.

Kenn Borek Air Twin Otter at Calgary Airport
Kenn Borek Air Twin Otter.
CHINARE BT-67 at Calgary Airport
Another look at the CHINARE BT-67.

Lastly, along the fence on the other side of the road, Canadian North and North Cariboo Air charter operations could be seen. I was lucky to see the two Canadian North aircraft operating special liveries (they appear to fly in and out of that apron on almost daily basis):

  • C-GPNL wearing a Celebrity Cruises livery
  • C-GCNO wearing a CFL (Canadian Football League) livery

Additionally, a North Cariboo Air Dash 8-300 registered C-GLWN was just pulled out of the hangar.

Canadian North Celebrity Cruises 737 at Calgary Airport
Canadian North’s 737s in special liveries.
Canadian North CFL 737 at Calgary Airport
Canadian Football League special livery.
North Cariboo Air Dash 8-300 (C-GLWN)
North Cariboo Air Dash 8-300.

Plane Spotting at Edward H. LaBorde Viewing Area

After spending some time walking around the perimeter, it looked like the sun might come out for a bit (it did not) and so I walked along McKnight Boulevard NE for 20 or so minutes to visit Edward H. LaBorde Viewing Area – an official viewing area that offered a great view of aircraft landing on runway 35L.

In addition to a parking lot, there were also some benches and picnic tables at this spot making it a nice place to hang out. While faded and dirty, there were also educational signs introducing the airlines and aircraft that fly to Calgary Airport among other things.

Edward H. LaBorde Viewing Area at Calgary Airport
Edward H. LaBorde Viewing Area.
Edward H. LaBorde Viewing Area
Informational signs.

Because of the weather and the lack of traffic interesting enough to warrant staying in spite of the weather, I only stayed at the location for a few minutes. In that time, I was able to see the following three aircraft land:

  • WestJet Encore Dash 8-400
  • Air Canada Express Dash 8-400 in the airline’s old livery
  • Prime Air 767-300F (first time for me to see the airline in person)
Air Canada Express Dash 8 Q400
Air Canada Express Dash 8 Q400 in old livery.
Prime Air 767 at Calgary Airport
Prime Air 767.

More BT-67s, DHC-8-400 Prototype & More from McTavish Court NE

My last stop of the day was McTavish Court Northeast – a small sidestreet that offers a view of an apron in front of CD Aviation Services, as well as of some other aprons including one in front of Viking Air which was consolidated into De Havilland Aircraft of Canada in February 2022.

Two aircraft – both Basler BT-67s – were parked in front of the CD Aviation Services hangar. While both appear to be owned by Kenn Borek Air, they were not wearing the airline’s livery.

Instead, the first one, registered C-GEAI, was wearing a nice red, blue, and white tricolor livery with ALCI titles standing for Antarctic Logistics Centre International. While the aircraft was missing a part of its wing, chances are it was for maintenance considering that the aircraft flew earlier this year judging by photos that can be found online. It was originally built as a DC-3 in 1944 before being converted to a BT-67.

The second one, registered C-GGSU, was all-white. That said, unlike other all-white aircraft, it wasn’t uninteresting thanks to its modified pointy nose. The aircraft was first delivered to the US Air Force in 1944 as a C-47 before joining the civil aviation world. Then, in 2006, it was converted to a BT-67, and a few years later, modifications that resulted in its current appearance were made.

ALCI BT-67 (C-GEAI) at Calgary Airport
ALCI BT-67.
GGSU at Calgary Airport (Basler BT-67)
Not your ordinary BT-67.

Behind the two Baslers, there was also a Piper PA-24-250 Comanche registered CF-VUT. While I am not as interested in general aviation as I am in airliners, I could not resist taking a photo of it due to the great backdrop that Calgary’s skyline provided.

Calgary Skyline from the Airport
CF-VUT and Calgary skyline.

Lastly, on the other side, in front of the Viking Air hangar, was one more special aircraft. It was a Bombardier Dash 8-400 prototype registered C-FJJA (chosen as a tribute to DHC’s Chief Test Flight Engineer Jackson “Jock” Aitken). While in the past it used to wear a blue livery with prominent “Q400 turboProfits” titles, now it is in a “De Havilland Aircraft of Canada” livery.

The aircraft flew for the first time on January 31, 1998, and later on was based in Bombardier Flight Test Center in Wichita before returning to Canada.

Dash 8 Q400 Prototype at Calgary Airport
Dash 8 Q400 prototype.

Summary

While it was unfortunate that the weather was cloudy and that I just missed the Disney Jet, I was still able to spend a very enjoyable afternoon around Calgary Airport’s southern perimeter. It was a lot of fun walking around the various nooks and crannies and seeing aircraft that are rare to see nowadays.

As such, if you have a chance to spend some time in Calgary and to visit the airport I definitely recommend doing so. You might also want to consider staying in one of the airport hotels on the southern side of the airport as many of those are within walking distance of both the parked aircraft I talk about above (some might not be there by the time you visit) and plane spotting locations that provide views of runway 35L and 35R movements.

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