Planespotters can be viewed in several ways. I think most people would bracket them with trainspotters and busspotters – eccentric, but harmless.
Greece, not so much – in 2001, a group of planespotters were arrested for spying. Ultimately, they were acquitted.
Manchester Airport, however, saw planespotting as a way of making money. So the airport’s Runway Visitor Park isn’t just a handy viewpoint for the runway – it’s a fully-fledged visitor attraction. Lizzie and I called on the way back from Quarry Bank Mill; I’d seen it signposted and figured it would be a good opportunity to snap a few shots of planes.
As you’d expect, there are three raised platforms to watch the planes from, one of which has a ramp. But there’s so much more; plenty of picnic tables, a café and bar, and a children’s funfair is open on summer weekends. Plus, there are several disused aircraft that you can book tours to see, including Concorde, and a shop that sells plenty of model planes.
One of the aircraft, an AVRO RJX (I’m not a plane geek, so this means nothing to me) is open all of the time; it’s a small aircraft that was used briefly for testing and only flew for a couple of years before being retired. The others are by guided tour only; I was only dropping in for a quick visit and so I didn’t book on for one this time. I’d definitely like to take a look around Concorde some time, as I never got to go on one when they were in service.
The park is surprisingly close to one of the taxiways, so it’s perfect for photography. A handful of people with big lenses were there, but I think most people had come to spend a sunny afternoon there. The food from the café looked rather expensive and uninspiring, but, as long as it’s a nice day, there’s nothing stopping you from bringing your own food and eating it outside. Just don’t feed the birds.
Entry to the site is free, although it costs money to park. It’s £5 for two hours, £10 for 2-4 hours, and £12 all day, making it relatively cheap for a car full of people. It’s served by a local bus service, and if you arrive by bus, on foot or by bike, there’s no parking charge. Be aware that on sunny days, like last Sunday, the car park may be full. And, being so close to Manchester Airport, security is high as you would expect – lots of CCTV cameras.
I commend Manchester Airport for having such a good place to watch planes. I’d like to say Lizzie enjoyed it too, but she was actually asleep the whole time. I expect we’ll be back – she’ll enjoy the funfair, and I might get the chance to look inside one of the bigger planes.