Spotting Report & Guide: A Day Around Istanbul Ataturk Airport

Spotting Report & Guide: A Day Around Istanbul Ataturk Airport

Last week, on my way to Slovakia, I had a chance to visit Istanbul for a day. Since I did some sightseeing in the city the last time I was there – courtesy of Turkish Airlines’ free transit tour – this time I decided to do some Istanbul spotting and other aviation-related things.

While the below takes a look at my day there, it should also serve as a fairly good guideline on what you could do should you decide to visit Istanbul for spotting.

Istanbul Airport Overview & Runway Usage

Istanbul Ataturk airport is the main airport in Istanbul. It is also the largest airport in Turkey and the fifth largest in Europe. The traffic at the airport is largely dominated by Turkish Airlines. However, other local companies – including AtlasGlobal, Onur Air, and MNG Airlines – can be seen there as well. A number of interesting foreign operators including Libya Airlines fly to Ataturk airport as well.

[full_width padding=”10px 10px 10px 10px”]Istanbul Airport Overview

The traffic at Istanbul Ataturk airport is dominated by Turkish Airlines.


The airport has three runways – 17L/35R, 17R/35L, and 05/23. Generally, the wind seems to be blowing from the north meaning runways 35R, 35L, and 05 are in use. That was the case during my visit as well. Runways 35R and 35L are used predominantly for take-offs while 05 is used for the majority of landings.

Istanbul Spotting Map

The map below shows all the locations mentioned further down in the report.

Morning Spotting Session: Florya Park

Florya Park Overview

After arriving from Tokyo around 4AM, I spent a couple of hours relaxing in the terminal. Then, shortly before 7AM, I decided to head out. I got into a cab and asked it to take me to Florya Park – the morning Istanbul spotting spot. It took a bit more than ten minutes to get there, and cost 26 liras (about 8 dollars).

[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Florya Park

Florya Park is a great Istanbul spotting location.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Istanbul Spotting Location: Florya Park

The park is also a favorite hangout spot for the locals.


Florya Park is a beautiful park along the coast and it offers great views of aircraft approaching runway 05. Once you get there, wait for the first aircraft to land and position yourself to a place that will give you your preferred angle.

[full_width padding=”10px 10px 10px 10px”]Istnabul Spotting Location: Florya Park

The boardwalk offers the best photo opportunities.


There are plenty of benches along the boardwalk and so spotting there is very comfortable. The only thing that some people might find slightly uncomfortable is the number of (quite large) stray dogs. However, they seemed to be very calm and the locals seemed to be used to them.

[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Istanbul Stray Dogs

Stray dogs.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Istanbul Stray Cat

…and a cat.


The Morning Traffic

Right after I got there, there was a morning rush of narrow bodies – both from Turkish Airlines and AtlasGlobal. Throughout the rest of the morning, plenty of other Turkish Airlines, AtlasGlobal, as well as Onur Air aircraft arrived.

[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Turkish Airlines 737-800

Turkish Airlines 737-900ER.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Turkish Airlines 777-300

Turkish Airlines 777-300ER.


[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]AtlasGlobal A321

AtlasGlobal A321.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Onur Air A320

Onur Air A320.


The two highlights from the Turkish passenger traffic to me were the retro A330 and an A321 in the “Discover the Potential” livery. I spotted some Turkish aircraft in the Star Alliance livery as well.

[full_width padding=”10px 10px 10px 10px”]Turkish Airlines A330-200 Retro

Turkish Airlines A330-200 in retro livery.


[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Turkish Airlines A321 Discover the Potential

Turkish Airlines A321 in “Discover the Potential” livery.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Turkish Airlines A321 Star Alliance

Turkish Airlines A321 in Star Alliance livery.


During the morning, also, no less than four A300 and one A330 freighters of MNG Airlines arrived.

[full_width padding=”10px 10px 10px 10px”]MNG Airlines A300-600

MNG Airlines / DHL A300-600.


[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]MNG Airlines A300-600

MNG Airlines A300-600.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]MNG Airlines A330-200

MNG Airlines A330-200.


From the foreign carriers, there were Turkmenistan 737, Saudia A330, Mahan A310, Uzbekistan 787, and AZAL 757 among others.

[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Turkmenistan Airlines 737-800

Turkmenistan Airlines 737-800.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Uzbekistan Airways 787-8

Uzbekistan Airways 787-8.


[full_width padding=”10px 10px 10px 10px”]Mahan Air A310-300

Mahan Air A310-300.


[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Saudi Arabian Airlines A330-300

Saudi Arabian Airlines A330-300.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Azerbaijan Airlines 757-200

Azerbaijan Airlines 757-200.


Gulls, Ships & Breakfast

Given that the park is situated on the coast, many seagulls and ships can be seen there. They provide for a nice subject for photography when the endless stream of Turkish Airlines 737s gets repetitive.

[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Seagulls



[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Ships



There are also several restaurants in the park. The one I went to was 30 second walk from where I was spotting. As such, it was a great place to grab something to eat and go to the restroom.

[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Restaurant

Fast food restaurant.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Restaurant

My sub-1 dollar breakfast.


There is also a public restroom in the park, however, during my visit it was closed.

A Visit to the Turkish Air Force Museum

Around 11AM, I decided to head out of the park and go visit the Turkish Air Force Museum. It is located nearby and so I wanted to walk over. However, there was a cab that stopped and asked if I needed a ride, so I decided to take it instead.

It cost me 20 liras (about 6 dollars) and took less than ten minutes. If I asked the driver to turn on the meter, might have been cheaper, but not a big deal.

The museum has great collection of aircraft including a Caravelle, but more about that in a separate review of the museum.

[full_width padding=”10px 10px 10px 10px”]Caravelle

Istanbul Airlines Caravelle.


Afternoon Spotting Session: FlyInn Mall

After spending a couple of hours in the museum, I walked over to FlyInn Mall – the afternoon spot. The walk from the museum to the mall took about an hour.

[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Walk

Crossing under the runway 05 flight path on my way to FlyInn Mall.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Mosque

A nice-looking mosque along the way.


The mall is located on the west side of Istanbul Ataturk airport and on the top floor there is a terrace where you can spot aircraft without any issues.

[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]FlyInn

FlyInn Mall


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]FlyInn

FlyInn Mall terrace.


[full_width padding=”10px 10px 10px 10px”]FlyInn

There is a busy road between the mall and the airport.


The terrace offers great views of movements on all three runways. It is, however, especially suitable for photographing aircraft on runways 35 left and right in the afternoon.

[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines 737 on runway 35L and 777 on 35R.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines 777 taking off from runway 17R.


The only unfortunate thing about the terrace is the fact that fence gets into the photos. As such, because of my personal preferences, the spot was only suitable for narrowbody photos and close-ups to me personally.

[full_width padding=”10px 10px 10px 10px”]Turkish Airlines

The only downside of this Istanbul spotting location is the fence.


The two highlights during my short stay were the departures of Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah Airways A320s.

[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Libyan Airlines A320

Libyan Airlines A320.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Afriqiyah Airways A320

Afriqiyah Airways A320.


A Visit to the Airplane Model Museum

After some time at the terrace, I met up with Mr. Gokhan Sarigol – the President of Fly Service and an avid aircraft model collector.

[full_width padding=”10px 10px 10px 10px”]Gokan Sarigol

Together with Mr. Sarigol and some of his models.


I had the chance to visit his offices and see his amazing collection of over 6,000 aircraft models of all sizes and types.

[one_half padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Models

Countless models of all sizes.


[one_half_last padding=”010px 10px 10px 10px”]Models

Models of Japanese airlines.


I also took some more photos from his office which is located next to the airport before heading to the airport to catch my flight to Vienna.

[full_width padding=”10px 10px 10px 10px”]Hong Kong Airlines A330

The last photo from Istanbul spotting – Hong Kong Airlines A330 freighter.


Istanbul Spotting Summary

  • About 70% of traffic is Turkish Airlines, followed by AtlasGlobal, Onur Air and MNG Airlines
  • Foreign carriers of interest include Libyan Airlines, AZAL, Turkmenistan Airlines, Iraq Airways, Uzbekistan Airlines, Afriqiyah Airways, etc.
  • Generally, runways 05 and 35L/R are in use
  • With that configuration, Florya Park is a great place to visit in the morning for 05 arrivals, and FlyInn in the afternoon for 35L/R departures
  • At Florya Park, a 70-300 mm lens is ideal; at FlyInn, wider lens is necessary depending on the type of shots you want
  • Turkish Air Force Museum is well-worth a visit whether you are a civil or military aviation fan

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