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Plane Spotting at Pearson Airport 101

Posted by Jerrold Litwinenko / May 10, 2007

Plane Spotting"Plane spotting" is an odd hobby, and most certainly isn't for everyone. But those that do it are really into it and seem to enjoy themselves immensely. I learned this first hand the other day when on a whim I decided to take a curiosity-induced drive around the perimeter of Toronto's Pearson International Airport and see what I could learn about the phenomenon that is plane spotting.

After making my way around more than half of the airport, I pulled up to the Wendy's at Airport Rd. & Orlando Dr. because I noticed a queue of twinkling lights in the distance - an indication that the nearby runway was being used for landings (it wasn't until later that I learned that this particular runway is Pearson's longest at 3.3km). I snagged my camera bag, and took a walk around. It didn't take long to have my first encounter with a plane-spotter...

Plane SpottingPlane SpottingThe first fellow I met was wearing a jacket with the words "Airport Watch" written boldly across the back. "Are you watching the planes?" I asked. "Yup," he responded courtly, as he tuned his walkie-talkie-like device and looked up into the sky before turning to walk away. Clearly he wasn't in the mood to talk to me, a newcomer to the scene. I made my way directly under the landing path, and snapped a few photos.

Plane SpottingPlane SpottingPlane SpottingAcross the street, on the chain link fence that separated public from private property, a sign reminded me to stay on my side of the fence. It made me think about security, and for a moment I considered packing up and going home rather than facing the potential consequences of meeting airport security staff who might think I'm a terrorist plotting some sort of evil scheme. That's when I met Stephan, a younger guy from Nova Scotia who (unlike the first plane-spotter I spotted) was smiling and approachable.

Plane SpottingFrom his ears, he pulled out his headphone buds. At first I thought he was listening to music, but from his pocket, he pulled out his radio. "What are you listening to?" I asked. "The air traffic control tower, and the planes on approach, which are on different frequencies," he explained. "This is a cheaper one. You can pick one up at Radio Shack."

Plane SpottingFrom his other pocket he then pulled out a piece of paper. As he unfolded it, he watched the horizon ahead of us. "A few big ones are coming soon. If you stick around between 3pm and 4pm you'll likely to see this British Airways 747." His info was from the internet, and detailed. The airlines, the type of planes, and their projected arrival times were all listed, along with a list of radio frequencies he could tap into to listen to the communications between the pilots and controllers.

Plane SpottingA few mid-sized Airbuses came in. It's rather amazing how low the planes are at this point.

Stephan was pretty sure that gigantic 747 would be arriving soon, and advised that I join him in moving off to the side to get a better view. "It's too big for the camera to stay here," he suggested.

He also told me a little about plane-spotter photography, and pointed me to a super cool web site for submitting and viewing the best of the best. "You've got zoom," he said, nodding to my camera. "Try to capture the exact moment the tires hit the ground and the smoke shoots out."

Plane SpottingPlane SpottingPlane SpottingThen came the moment we'd been waiting for - the arrival of the massive British Airways 747. As it approached I marvelled at just how HUGE it was. I backed up a little further. I wanted to include my new friend Stephan (who'd come all the way from the downtown core by public transit to see this and taken me under his wing for the experience) in the frame.

Here's the moment in all its glory:

Plane SpottingDespite shooting in rapid succession at a wide angle, I couldn't even fit the plane in the frame!

So there you have it... plane spotting at Pearson 101. It's not likely that I'll take up this rather geeky, somewhat strange hobby. But admittedly, it was a lot of fun. Had I been alone, and not had the pleasure of meeting my teacher Stephan, I don't think I'd have enjoyed myself nearly as much. Oh, and to see another (much larger format) view of a massive plane we managed to catch please check out this snap. Crazy eh?

Discussion

84 Comments

chris / May 10, 2007 at 10:36 am
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what a weird, random, fun post!
Hamish Grant / May 10, 2007 at 11:18 am
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If you want to bag the guppy I suggest checking the arrival/departures for the Antonov AN-124 that makes weekly visits to Pearson. It is HUGE and there's no mistaking the noise it makes when taking off.

for reference:
http://www.airliners.net/open.file?id=1160389

Rick / May 10, 2007 at 11:26 am
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I totally want to go out there now and watch 747's land! The pictures are awesome, the sight of a 747 so close but in the air makes it look like it was photoshopped there.

What's the schedule for that Antonov AN-124? That would be completely mind blowing to see.
SH / May 10, 2007 at 11:26 am
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Geeky as it may be it's gotten me kind of excited... I'm not ashamed to admit I kind of can't wait for the day the A380 will make its appearance at Pearson... now that's a huge mother.
Jerrold / May 10, 2007 at 11:32 am
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Check out this neat comparison of some of <a href="http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/design/q0188.shtml";>the largest aircraft out there</a>!

So who's going to find the flight schedule for the Antonov beast?
Sameer Vasta / May 10, 2007 at 11:53 am
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Right around the corner from my place. Next time you're there, call me. I'll stop by for a Frosty. =)
Jerrold / May 10, 2007 at 12:09 pm
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An AN-124 landed at Pearson on May7th, but I can't find the next projected flight in.

BUT I did stumble upon this <a href="http://flightaware.com/analysis/allflights_movie.rvt";>INSANE graphical representation</a> of air traffic over the US on Nov21, 2006. CRAZY!
Hamish Grant / May 10, 2007 at 01:16 pm
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I caught the AN-124 around this time last year - one year ago today, to be exact, at 9:14am as it was taking off from the Wendy's runway.

May 7th this year was a Monday
May 10th last year was a Wednesday..

guess we'll have to keep an eye out.

Here's a link to my shot of it taking off:

http://hame.ca/tribe/an124-May1006.jpg
Mark Dowling / May 10, 2007 at 01:22 pm
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That Lufthansa is probably an A340-600.

I have seen suggestions (which I can see the point of) that spotters are good for security as they tend to notice people who are checking out points of entry to the airfield rather than the planes, etc. Some airports actually enlist spotters to help in this regard.
Barry_R / May 10, 2007 at 01:28 pm
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If you haven't done this, you really are missing some great fun. You don't appreciate how <i>big</i> these planes are until they fly right over you're head.
Adam / May 10, 2007 at 01:36 pm
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Great shots, Jerrold! Curious, what camera is that you're using?
Jerrold / May 10, 2007 at 01:39 pm
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Adam: My trusty ol' Olypmus e-300 with kit lenses (14-45mm for wide and 40-150mm for zoom). :)
Jerrold / May 10, 2007 at 01:41 pm
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Mark: I found this article about <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2006/07/27/plane-spotters.html";>plane spotters helping security</a> in Calgary. Neat!
Chester Pape / May 10, 2007 at 02:05 pm
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Unfortunately YYZ is not one of the airports where security tends to view spotters as a positive, people I know who spot report being regularily hassled by the Peel Regional Police airport detail, they seem to leave folks alone at the Wendy's but will tend to show up and suggest you move along if you stop anywhere else along the perimeter fence.
Jerrold / May 10, 2007 at 02:08 pm
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When I was in high school Silver Dart Dr. (parallel to the 427) was a prime location to ummm... park and watch planes with the girlfriend ;)

After 9/11 they put up concrete barricades, no-stopping signs, and enforced it with patrol cars.
sookie / May 10, 2007 at 04:08 pm
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if you're not just going after size it's fun to watch the Island airport planes come and go from the rooftop of the Radisson, and you can do it with a caesar in hand too!
sookie / May 10, 2007 at 04:21 pm
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...and if you're a plane buff I'd recommend the TV show <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayday_(TV_series)">Mayday</a>, done by Toronto prodcos Nextfilm & Cineflix.
Mike / May 10, 2007 at 11:21 pm
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Nice writeup Jerrold. Always been fascinated by planes. Stopped there a few times to just watch the planes come in but never had my camera.

The last time I seen the Antonov was during the Sunday I think when the replica of the Avro Arrow was on display outside.

Even as a kid (and still now today) I always wanted to get up close to the cockpit but thanks to some event a few years ago, that chance went bye-bye.

Might have to take a trip out there to watch the planes come in the near future.
Christina / May 10, 2007 at 11:54 pm
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Don't be fooled people. J loved airplanes as a child and I know he has experienced this "phenomenon" before although perhaps not to this extent. Geek!

I have to add that it is NOT a "geek" experience. It's an excellent way to spend time, not only when you don't know what else to do with your time but also as a Sunday afternoon kinda' thing especially experiencing it with someone who has never done it before. It is exciting and loud and quick. A small but free rush if you will. Try it once if you haven't already.
Geoff / May 11, 2007 at 08:05 am
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Very pleasant article - thank you!

I have never considered plane spotting an 'odd' hobby! Been doing it since 1973!

True plane spotters track aircraft registrations (tail numbers)! These seem to be European spotters, whilst those in North America would be considered photographers!

Johnny / May 12, 2007 at 12:06 am
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I want to try this. ;-)
Dean / May 12, 2007 at 12:53 am
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Wow, those pics are fantastic. Gotta do this one day.
doug / May 15, 2007 at 09:33 am
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planespotters played a big role in exposing the CIA's (probably) illegal rendition flights

http://www.surfingtheapocalypse.net/cgi-bin/forum.cgi?noframes;read=155763
Henry Roxas / May 16, 2007 at 01:17 am
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That's so wicked. I might try that sometime.
Ryan C. / May 16, 2007 at 10:28 am
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I think I'm gonna have to bring the 300mm over to pearson...
Kevin / May 23, 2007 at 08:45 pm
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Great write-up, but I'd like more information about Stephan's list.
I found his frequency information here:
http://www.canairradio.com/yyz.html
But I can't find his arrival information. Does anyone know where he got that from?
Thanks!
Jerrold_ / May 23, 2007 at 10:47 pm
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I think Stefan used <a href="http://www.flightstats.com";>THIS PAGE</a> for flight schedules.
mishka / May 25, 2007 at 01:00 pm
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haha Jerrold you're sooo right about Silver Dart Drive.

Sometimes just to relax and getaway from it all I'd sit and watch some jets on arrival... now I want to do it again and bring my camera!
Wai-Ling Li / June 1, 2007 at 09:26 am
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Does anyone know how I can get an arrival schedule for June 10 2007? I would like to be there to watch the planes but schedule my day accordingly. Your help is much appreciated.
PC / June 29, 2007 at 10:45 am
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What scanner is required to pickup the tower and planes ?
Alan Gee / September 10, 2007 at 01:21 pm
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Jerrod, Fantastic pics. Really enjoyed viewing them. I haven't been plane spotting in a couple of years, and I do miss it. Still have my scanners and listen from home every now and then. Also live down by the lake and when the winds are right, we're on the flight path. Hope to get back to the airport soon.
john / October 28, 2007 at 05:57 pm
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how do you know when planes are landing at the wendy's runway because out of the 5 times i went only was it once that the planes would land over my head.
alex / February 9, 2008 at 12:58 pm
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i am also a plane spotter its so fun especially the big ones like you said in your report,i go plane spotting at east midlands airport but there isnt many big ones thanks alex
Leonard / March 2, 2008 at 08:43 am
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Try to follow wind the direction... then you'll know where the take-off and landing and which runway.
Tibor / March 21, 2008 at 01:49 pm
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You can listen to the tower here:
http://audio.liveatc.net:8012/cyyz_twr_app.m3u
kurt / April 10, 2008 at 10:13 pm
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how can i find out when the antonov is comming to yyz ???
Jerrold / April 10, 2008 at 10:15 pm
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@ kurt

I don't know, but if you figure it out, please let us know. :)
Brian / July 13, 2008 at 06:29 pm
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Where can I find the list of flights, arrival times, airline, aircraft type and frequencies on the net?
robbreid / July 28, 2008 at 04:08 pm
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http://flightaware.com/live/airport/CYYZ
Kristal / September 29, 2008 at 12:41 am
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I googled plane-spotting in Toronto and came across your page. I did not think that plane-spotting was possible here in toronto given the inter-web of roads and highways that surround it! its certainly confusing. but i must say ure pictures are amazing and beautiful! I will surely take up the opportunity of visiting Airport & Orlando in the near future!!!

Thanks!
saleem / October 5, 2008 at 07:56 pm
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This is a great posting of your experience. I started plane spotting this summber and it has quickly turned into an addiction. I too have tried talking to the guy in the plaid and cap only to receive a cold response. Maybe I'll see you around the airport...cheers! BTW Great pics.
gary / January 7, 2009 at 08:00 pm
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great thread, has anyone been recently to pearson to do some plane spotting, any good locations other than the wendy's?
thanks I really wanna try this.
Marcin / February 15, 2009 at 05:31 pm
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I have moved to mississauga in august 2008 from surrey, bc. I have visited Vancouver International many times with my fiancee and loved it. I am glad I found this place so we can actually go and enjoy planee spotting some more.
richard / March 22, 2009 at 02:02 pm
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pearson might not be used by CIA rendition-torture flights, but you never know til you photo one. ie---

In Spain, town planner Joseph Manchado is part of a small group who gather with their long lenses and foil-wrapped sandwiches at Majorca's Son Sant Joan airport.

In January last year Mr Manchado saw a Boeing 737 on the airport tarmac. He pressed his camera shutter button while speculating idly that some US millionaire was in town. Then he put the picture of the Boeing (tail fin number N313P) on airliners.net, and forgot about it.

Within a few days Mr Manchado starting getting strange calls and emails. ...Months later, he got a call from Germany's ZDF television. A man called Khalid El-Masri had come to them claiming he had been kidnapped by the CIA from Macedonia, bundled onto a plane and taken off to a prison many hours away. Several months later, after allegedly being tortured, he was flown back and dropped in Albania.

One of the planes thought to be involved was one Mr Manchado had photographed. It was believed that it had flown on to Macedonia that very same day. With the photo in their hand, ZDF reporters were able to persuade Skopje flight control to give them a printout of the flight plan. The aircraft had gone from Palma to Skopje and from there to Baghdad and Kabul. Mr El-Masri's story, convincingly told but difficult to believe, fitted.
Parminder / March 27, 2009 at 08:07 pm
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Be sure to check out the Emirates A380 when it starts service to Toronto on June 1, 2009 from Dubai!

mario / April 15, 2009 at 06:24 pm
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can't wait for the A380 to arrive. hopefully it uses runway 25.
Chris Wallace / May 22, 2009 at 08:32 pm
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I'm doing some spotting on June 5th to see if I can't catch a glimpse of the A380 that afternoon. His Gate arrival time is scheduled for 3:45 local time so I imagine he'll probably land around 3:30 or just after..give him about 10 minutes taxi time..We're going to park at the Petro Canada station at runway 23, so hopefully he uses that approach that day. What's a good place to park if they're using 24L/R, 05?
apetimberlake / July 3, 2009 at 01:15 pm
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Got a pretty neat flick of the 380 landing at YYZ on my Black Berry.

Took this by the fence off Airport Rd on Canada Day.

There was a tonne of people around to check it out.

Sorry for the quality of the pic.

http://img354.imageshack.us/img354/7987/a380.jpg

Emily replying to a comment from chris / August 5, 2009 at 06:17 pm
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Hey! i love this blog! im a plane spotter...i also love photography. im waiting to see the A380 come in. tried today, but i never caught it. does it land on the same runway Mon, Wed, Fri @ 3:45???
Aaron / August 31, 2009 at 07:52 am
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Thanks for the info.

Going to take my kids there today to check out the planes. I am sure they are going to FREAK OUT, as I will likely as well.

Thanks again.
Armand / August 31, 2009 at 05:36 pm
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I went to the airport today and I missed the A380. I only saw it taxi. It lands on RWY 06L.
stephen weir / October 6, 2009 at 10:53 pm
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YYZ plane spotters are talked about in this blog entry about the landing of the world's largest commercial aircraft in Toronto.

http://20minutesoffame.blogspot.com/2009/09/playing-to-social-media.html
Miss22 / October 10, 2009 at 11:17 am
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Dividends have very little to do with the price of a stock. ,
stephen weir / October 14, 2009 at 11:24 am
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My blog looks at how people, corporations and government agencies work to get that extra 5 minutes of fame over and above the 15 minutes given them by Andy Warhol. In the blog posting listed below I look at how the GTAA reached out to yyz plane spotters and invited them inside the fence to watch the arrival of the world's largest aircraft. The invite was nice, it was also an example of a corporation paying attention to Social Media.
Check it Out at:

http://20minutesoffame.blogspot.com/2009/09/playing-to-social-media.html
mike / November 2, 2009 at 11:18 pm
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I'm curious if any of the regular planespotters at YYZ know of a good site that might track plane registration numbers? I have a big gap in my flight memory of nearly 50 flights to YYZ as ACARS doesn't seem to do a good job with Pearson flights + only goes back to 2006. Any thoughts would be great.

http://www.acarsd.org/world_ACARS_reports.html

London airport site is the best I've found, anything like this for YYZ?

http://www.lhr-lgw.co.uk/

thanks
Nick / November 9, 2009 at 03:41 pm
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I stopped by at Wendys last week for lunch around 1am and I happened to see the huge 4 engine Emirates plane land, I was reading an article on that plane in the Toronto star while back and the first class ticket costs around $15000 and you have access to shower facilities on the plane, spa services, as well as premium liquor at the international bar located inside the first class area. It looked newer and shinier on the outside than the Air Canada planes that normally take off from Pearson.

By the way, I did see a Peel region cop by the fence area telling all the people parked there to move their cars.
Tom Ingle / January 9, 2010 at 10:24 am
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I'm trying to find out what I have to type into Google to get the print out of the aircraft, projected time of arrival at Pearson International airport , Toronto, and radio frequencies depicted in the photo of a guy named Stephen who (in the photo) shows a list on paper of the above he is holding. I have been an airplane spotter, as well as a priovate pilot for many years. The wife and I always go to the Wendy restaurant at the end of Pearson's runway 23 (the longest one) but also need to find out who to phone to find out which are the landing runways in use for a particular day. Today (Saturday Jan 9th is clear blue (cloudless)so we're off to plane spot as usual. Looking forward to a reply with the above info.
Paul / January 20, 2010 at 03:10 pm
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Tom,

You can get all that info off of flightaware or flightstats. As for frequencies just print off the approach charts for each runway, as they should be listed on there. To find out which runway, generally speaking and plane will land against a prevailing wind. I'm assuming you know that being a piot yourself. Otherwise, tune into approach control and listen for the approved approach runway that day.

Regards
Ray / February 2, 2010 at 10:42 am
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I found a website for anyone interested, http://www.liveatc.net/feedindex.php?type=canada, where you can listen to the Toronto ATC on a live feed. Also depending on the winds I found another Wendys on Dixie where they land on 05. You have to find a spot down where the strobes are. Also if anyone knows of a website with a live cam or something please let me know. I don't get to Toronto to often but I do like watching the planes.
Trevor / March 17, 2010 at 06:12 pm
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I think the best place we should all go is Nevada.The area around Groom Lake is a "Hot Bed" for Strange Craft that seem to defy gravity...Why do they need a 23,000 foot runway??? Pearson's longest is #5 @ 11,125 Ft.All of the REAL HOT STUFF is under ground,however check out..."Google Earth AREA-51 NEVADA." it is amazing...even a baseball diamond. Can you spot the two B-737's and F-15's??? Take Care.Country Style Has great donuts---needs better coffee.
Tom Ingle / March 18, 2010 at 11:55 am
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How can I get (from the Internet) the list of aircraft arrivals with air traffic control frequencies for both the control tower at Pearson and also the pilots, as shown in the photo on this web site?
Shawn@SoScooter.com / April 11, 2010 at 10:17 pm
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I'm wondering why Wendy's is the only business establishment to (accidentally) cash in on the plane spotting business. In Kaohsiung, Taiwan, there are at least a half-dozen "plane spotting cafes" that serve food and drink, overlooking the airport runway.

Would one of these do well in Toronto?
Parminder replying to a comment from Shawn@SoScooter.com / May 30, 2010 at 08:04 pm
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Shawn, the Wendy's beside RWY 23 is always very busy! Definitely a very popular location! Don't know how a cafe would do, it would certainly be refreshing.
cali / July 11, 2010 at 03:23 am
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I was just wondering what time and day of the week is best to watch planes land during night time?
Walter. P. / July 23, 2010 at 12:11 pm
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Possibly a little off topic but is there a "local" airfield/landing strip where airships; ie: like the Goodyear Unit (blimp, balloon,etc.). can be photographed?
lofty / July 23, 2010 at 01:39 pm
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Walter: Downsview Airport :)
KennDoll / April 11, 2011 at 08:38 pm
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Great blog Jerrold. Looks like you were on Airport road taking pictures of runway 23 (Took me a little digging to find out). I work across the airport from there. Watching planes land on runway 5 is good, but not close enough.

If anyone here is a serious plane spotter and likes to vacation in the Caribbean, vist St. Maartin (Dutch side) on Maho Beach. I stayed at the Maho Beach Hotel and Casino. Best plane spotting you will ever see. Nothing like a 747 100' over your head. It's fairly expensive there, but well worth the experience. If you have visited airliners.net, you will notice a ton of pictures come from that beach.
Horace replying to a comment from dushcyouwzwx / March 13, 2012 at 02:19 pm
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My sentiments exactly. Smarten up, people.
ash / March 15, 2012 at 09:35 am
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I hav been on the Emirates A380 best experience ever...
its the number 1 airlines..
no doubt..
ash / March 15, 2012 at 09:36 am
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any1 no which runway is best for plane spotting and give me the exact location..
thanks..
Kj / April 5, 2012 at 05:50 pm
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Whats the frequency for this toronto pearson airport tower please?

Thanks!
James / July 15, 2012 at 10:43 am
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Have been to the location near Wendy's and Petrocan twice now and can confirm it is an excellent place to see planes landing. Lots of 737s, Q-400s, Dash 8s, a few 767s, but no 747s on the two days I was there. No matter, great planespotting location regardless of the aircraft type landing.
Stuart / April 29, 2013 at 05:04 pm
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Does anyone have any info regarding A380's at Pearson?.. Other then the scheduled landing etc. I know M,W,F afternoon..but more importantly i have only seen photo/video of this plane landing in the east (airport road landing strip).. i went today to view it, but it already landed.. was at North Lounge off of Derry Rd already... where to go to better the odds of seeing it... :) providing it is not early..or i'm late... thanks!!
Sarathi / July 11, 2013 at 12:03 pm
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My boyfriend LOVES plane spotting and was disappointed that his old rooftop parking lot isn't there anymore (he hasn't checked it out in 6-7 years) and his birthday is this Sun (Jul 14th) so I'm hoping to surprise him with a new location (hoping the Wendy's/Petro Canada area will be good). My only issue is that I can't find a flight schedule to find out which flights will be landing on Sunday, can anyone help me find this? I want to plan it so that I get there for the best time of day. Let me know please :)
Rob / September 3, 2013 at 03:57 pm
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I'm sitting here watching planes and this man is in the exact spot. Presumably waring the same clothes.
kwhisperer / September 11, 2013 at 10:19 am
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Saw the A380 from near the Wendy's area a few weeks back - couldn't believe how big it looked. And lucked out with a near-perfect cell phone shot. Well worth it!
vignesh replying to a comment from kwhisperer / September 11, 2013 at 05:08 pm
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How to know the flights are coming in runway 23, near petro canada? I tried visiting couple of times, didn't have luck to spot the flights coming through.
Rob / September 14, 2013 at 06:43 pm
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Kwhisperer. Id love to see that pic.
Larry Moore / September 15, 2013 at 11:11 pm
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I go to the airport every Saturday, on holiday mon and when I'm on vacation during the summer I take my bike with me on the bus so I go right around the airport because I don't know what side they are landing on got my scanner, camera and camcorder I always meet people its always a fun day get lots of sun
vince / April 21, 2014 at 08:47 am
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A longtime great hobby/pastime, I am from Hamilton,my lady is from Brampton. We enjoy a day at a lot on Davand Dr., after picking up a coffee at a nearby Timmies, or bring a lunch, hoping to see the elusive B.A. 747, OR the Air Emmerites jumbo. How would I obtain a schedule for any certain day, for landings over Dixie Rd. Thank you - Vince.
ron arjoon / September 15, 2014 at 11:05 am
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if you get westward facing room at the Travel Lodge on Dixon rd. you can watch them land from your room.
Bing.Com / September 23, 2014 at 11:22 am
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Hi, the whole thing is going well here and ofcourse every one
is sharing data, that's in fact fine, keep up writing.
Spike / September 23, 2014 at 11:45 am
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Great article, but does anybody do trainspotting like I do? And, does anybody take pictures of the trains like I do?

Steve / September 27, 2014 at 12:04 am
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Some great shots here. I love plane spotting at Pearson, behind Petro on Airport Rd is the best spot. If anyone is looking for some great spots at other airports around the world, I found a great article on it. http://www.viralbistro.com/6-exhilarating-places-watch-airplanes-take-land-world/

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