Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
Click the map to go to Google Maps satellite view of this airport
The main airport serving the city of Phoenix is really great place to watch and photograph aircraft. The layout is similar to Minneapolis except that here, the parking is actually above the terminal whereas at MSP, the parking garage is free-standing in the center of the complex between the terminal concourses. Here, you get a great view of activity on both north and south runways. There are 2 terminals with garages – T3, and T4 – and another smaller two story garage that used to be for the recently demolished Terminal 2. This garage is temporarily closed.
T4 handles American & international flights on the north side and Southwest Airlines on the south side. It is also the highest garage, with the rooftop level about 9 floors up giving a great view of the ramp & gate areas and north and south runways. T3 is a shorter garage but still offers the same great view. This terminal handles other airlines such as Delta, Hawaiian, Frontier, and JetBlue. From the east end of T3 (and west end of T4) you’ll get a great view of the taxiway bridge which is where aircraft cross from the north side to the south side. Each of these garages are popular with locals who like to watch planes, safe, well-lit, and the airport security is friendly. As far as photography, since the runways are east-west you will only have good light for photographing anything on the north side all year – the south side may be backlit. Not to despair, there is another great spot for catching south side action.
Adjacent to the south side of the Phoenix airport there is a river and on the south bank there is a spot with a perfect view of traffic departing or landing on the south runway. It used to be nothing more than a hill but in recent years the city built walkways to make it handicap and bicyclist accessible and benches with a cover to protect from the sun. To get here, take 143 south to University, then go west to S. 40th St. Make a right here and go a couple blocks to the end where there will be a cul-de-sac where you can park. This spot is popular with locals who bring their dogs to run down and play in the normally dry riverbed. I also met several plane watchers and a couple of photographers here. The light here would be good for photographing south runway activity at any time of the year.
The variety of aircraft here is not too good – it is mostly Airbus A320 and Boeing 737s. There are few foreign airlines serving Phoenix, including British Airways, Air Canada, Westjet, Aeromexico, and Volaris. There is an Arizona Air National Guard base on the south side which operates KC135s and other military jets have been known to drop in on practice flights.
There are other smaller airports in the Phoenix area too including Scottsdale, which is mostly business jets and has at least one nice viewing area, and Falcon Field in Mesa, which has a Commemorative Air Force museum. Hopefully on my next trip I can do a review on those.