Los Angeles International Airport (LAX); a North American Hotspot for International “Heavies”

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX); a North American Hotspot for International “Heavies”

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX); a North American Hotspot for International “Heavies”

Article and Photos by Barry Griffiths

February 22, 2015

LAX (Los Angeles Airport), a well-known hotspot for commercial aviation photographers and enthusiasts, has 680 flights a day that provide an amazing diversity of airlines and aircraft.  I recently spent a couple of days at LAX, the sixth busiest airport in the world and third busiest in the United States, photographing the wide variety of international carriers that fly into LAX with their wide-body jumbo jets (Airbus A330, A340, A380 and Boeing B-747, B-767, B-777, and B-787).

The quantity and quality of the photographic opportunities I experienced were top-drawer as the regional, continental, and international flights arrived and departed continuously, on the airport’s four parallel runways, and provided non-stop action from dawn to dusk.

The landings and take-offs of the international passenger wide-bodies tend to be spread out throughout the day with most of them using the two northern runways.  It’s not often you can find an airport where it’s easy to drive to different vantage points throughout the day as the light and air traffic patterns change. However, the lightly travelled roads around the perimeter of the airport make it quite practical to get to good locations and photograph the aircraft arriving at one end of the runway and then departing later in the day from the opposite end.

On the first morning at LAX, on reaching the best spot to catch the Australian and Asian jumbos landing on the northern runways, I ran into a dense LA fog bank covering the threshold.  For the first 20 minutes, the only activity was the sound of engines passing anonymously in the fog then, very quickly, the fog started to break up and the aircraft already on short final emerged from the mist into blue skies, with spectacular photographic results.


In the middle of the day, since many of the Far Eastern and Pacific airlines’ heavies depart on 24L, I was directed to a terrific spot, with optimum light, on Vista Del Mar a beach road, and had a wonderful view of some of the departing aircraft on Runway 24L. You have to be quick on your camera trigger, though, as the massive sand dunes hide the runway, and you don’t see the aircraft until it’s almost overhead.

A similar sequence takes place in the early afternoon when the European carriers including Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM, Air France, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, along with Russian Airlines Aeroflot and Transaero, start to arrive and taxi to their Tom Bradley International Terminal arrival gates.  It’s easy to catch their departures, two or three hours later, by driving back to the beach road location and photographing them as they start their return flights to their home cities.

Many of the LAX flights give a new meaning to the expression “long haul” as some of the international “heavies” are flying non-stop routes of up to 8,000 miles and longer.  For example, Etihad flies 8158 miles to Abu Dhabi, Cathay Pacific 7,236 miles to Hong Kong, Philippines Airlines 7292 miles to Manila, China Southern 7232 miles to Guangzhou and Aeroflot 6162 miles to Moscow. The changes that have taken place in commercial air travel are truly amazing and the extreme distances that are now being covered by these aircraft have forever changed the world of air travel.

The Airbus A380-800’s are clearly the stars of the wide-bodied aircraft models with a current total of twelve flights a day into LAX, operated by eight international airlines. These mammoth aircraft are certified to carry 525 people in a typical three-class configuration or up to 853 people in an all-economy class configuration.  Since the A380-800 has a design range of 9,800 mi (15,700 km), the international carriers of this aircraft rack up some very impressive long distance statistics flying to some of the most far flung cities in the world.

Emirates Airlines boasts the world’s longest A380 service in operation with its flight between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the Expo 2020 host city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.  This landmark Trans Polar route of 8,339 miles crosses Eastern Canada, the North Pole and the Russian Federation and has a flying time of 16 hours and 20 minutes.

The late afternoon departure of the Emirates A380 attracts a large crowd of interested onlookers on the Imperial Hill Lookout adjacent to Runway 25L. When I was there, many observers had their mouths agape as the massive aircraft lumbered down the 11,095ft runway, fully loaded with passengers, cargo and fuel, for its marathon flight to Dubai.  Then, as it appeared to be almost running out of runway, the nose wheel finally started to lift and then, with a noticeable shallow angle of attack, the enormous Airbus clambered into the western sky and began its long ascent to its cruising altitude.

Finally, as the daylight ebbs and the sun sinks in the west over the darkening Pacific Ocean, the Vista Del Mar beach location presents the photographer with some amazing “golden glow” belly shots. This light only lasts for a few minutes but, during that time, allows one to take some very unique departure photographs. For me it was a memorable ending to a wonderful day of aviation photography at Los Angeles Airport (LAX).

Observation Log - LAX "Heavies"

Aicraft TypeAirlineNumber
A380-842 Qantas VH-OQH
A380-861 Korean Air HL7614
B-777-39LER Air China Cargo B-2089
A380-841 Asiana Airlines HL7626
A380-861 Korean Air (KAL) HL7613
A330-243 Hawaiian Airlines N385HA
B-777-319ER Air New Zealand ZK-OKR
B-787-8 Dreamliner LAN Airlines CC-BBF
B-747-47UF Atlas Cargo N477MC
B-747-830 Lufthansa D-ABYA
B-747-830 Lufthansa D-ABYF
A380 -841 British Airways G-XLEB
A380-841 British Airways G-XLEE
B-747-406 KLM Royal Dutch Airlines PH-BFO
B-747-406 KLM Royal Dutch Airlines PH-BFI
A340-642 Virgin Atlantic G-VBLU
A380-861 Air France F-HPJG
A380-861 Air France F-HPJJ
A330-243 Aeroflot-Russian Airlines VQ-BLX
B-767-3Q8ER Transaero Airlines (Russia) EI-UNE
A340-313X Philippine Airlines RP-C3435
B-777-F1B China Southern Airlines B-2080
B-747-867F Cathay Pacific Cargo B-LJG
A330-343X Aeroflot-Russian Airlines VQ-BPJ
B-777-237LR Etihad Airways (UAE) E6-LRE
A380-861 Emirates (UAE) A6-EEL
A340-313X Air Tahiti Nui F-OSUN
B-777-222ER United Airlines N209UA
A330-243 Hawaiian Airlines N392HA
B-777-223ER American Airlines N776AN
Barry Griffiths on EmailBarry Griffiths on Flickr
Barry Griffiths
Barry Griffiths is a published author, wildlife photographer and naturalist. After a successful career as an educator, he became founder and President of Quest Nature Tours, a company specializing in worldwide nature tours and expedition cruising. On his retirement from these endeavors, he continues to photograph wildlife and pursue his lifelong interest in all aspects of aviation.

Barry can be reached at: [email protected]
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