Aircraft Observation at JFK
Article and Photos by Steven Valinski
I know what you are thinking, why would Aviation Photography of the West publish an article on aircraft observation at an east-coast airport? Well, while the majority of our coverage will be focused on aviation and aviation photography in the western United States, there will be many occasions where we will cover other parts of the United States, Canada and the rest of the world. On occasion, we will be exposed to aviation outside of the western United States and we intend to share our experiences with our readers. Aircraft observing at JFK is one of these experiences.
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is located in the borough of Queens, New York. While it is the 7th busiest airport in the U.S., it handles more international traffic than any other airport in the U.S.. JFK was formerly known as New York International Airport, more commonly referred to as Idlewild Airport, handled it’s first airline flight in 1948. A month after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the airport was renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport. Over 70 airlines operate flights to/from JFK with scheduled direct flights to all six populated continents.
For aviation enthusiasts/photographers, observing/photographing aircraft at JFK can provide a goldmine of opportunities. With heavy aircraft such as the Airbus 380, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Boeing 777, Airbus 340 and other large aircraft, there is always something interesting to see. As with many of the larger airports, runway use can determine how prosperous your day at JFK can be. The worst-case scenario is when arrivals and departures are in a suicide split, arriving and departing from both directions, utilizing two runways. Another factor, especially in New York, is the weather. With chilly fall and winter months and over 4 inches of precipitation per month, a planned day at JFK could easily end up “rained out”.
Fortunately, the day in early June we chose to photograph aircraft at JFK turned out to be one of the better days of the week in terms of weather. In addition, most of the “heavies” came in on runway 22L, so we positioned ourselves for the best angle and lighting for arrivals on this runway. The best resource we found that provided the best locations around JFK to observe/photograph aircraft are located in the “Planespotting Maps” section of the NYC Aviation website (http://www.nycaviation.com). They do a great job explaining the best locations and the time of day that these locations are ideal. Overall, the entire site is a great resource for aviation enthusiasts and aviation photographers.
We began our day at North Woodmere Park (40.647940, -73.738983). We were able to get a decent view of the 22L arrivals, with the 22R arrivals needing a longer reach from this location. The lighting at this location was good up until about mid-day. Because of the distance we were from the aircraft, we did have some issues with heat haze. After lunch, we headed over to the “mounds” in Brookville/Idlewild Park (40.654693, -73.753235). There is a hill here located next to a soccer field. The hill is surrounded by tall grass. In the warmer months, this location is notorious for bugs. We experienced gnats, mosquitoes, and other flying/biting insects. This location is also known to have ticks, although we were fortunate enough to avoid them. The “mounds” location provided an excellent view of the arrivals on 22L. A maximum zoom needed at this location was approximately 200mm, this helped us avoid any issues with heat haze.
Overall is was a great day. We were able to observe/photograph several Airbus 380’s and Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s, along with plenty of Boeing 777’s, 767’s, 757’s and Airbus 330’s, 340’s. We observed airlines from all over the world. European staples such as: Lufthansa, Air France, Aer Lingus, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, Middle Eastern airlines such as: Emirates and Royal Jordanian, along with Asian airlines such as: Cathay Pacific, JAL, Eva Air and Korean Air were represented. This day yielded more varieties of aircraft than any day I have spent at any other airports I have been to. The nice weather and predictable runway use helped us get the most out of the day.
I encourage any aviation enthusiasts to spend some time at JFK and observe the many opportunities that present themselves there. On this day, we were fortunate with good weather, predictable runway use and no issues with security or law enforcement. Our only adversaries were the “man-eating” bugs that presented themselves throughout the day. It was all worth it for the wonderful variety of aircraft we were able to photograph.
I would like to thank Isaac Lebowitz and Chris Schildt for being wonderful hosts and providing me with information and resources that helped me have a terrific experience observing/photographing aircraft at JFK. I hope to return the favor one day if/when they head out West!