Spotter Notes: Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
by Andrew Abshier, DVM
Like Miami International Airport (MIA), which I wrote about earlier, FLL has undergone many changes since my last visit--which was (gasp!) 1982!  Though it was always a very strong second airport to mighty MIA, FLL has emerged as a great center in its own right.

These notes are provided with the caveat that I am not a south Florida
resident.  If you live in the area and have any additions or corrections to the
following, please let me hear about them.   Email me here.

FLL has three runways, but the principal is Runway 9L/27R, on the north side of the airport.  All jet traffic uses this runway; turboprops and general aviation usually use either 9R/27L or perhaps Runway 13/31.

All of the good photography spots are on the south side of 9L/27R.   For east operations, the classic spot is the observation area, which the FLL Airport Authority thoughtfully created for the many enthusiasts who visit.  There is a parking area across the road from the perimeter fence, and the fence has six steel plates installed at eye level with holes big enough to poke a telephoto lens through!

Taxiing aircraft are child's play to photograph from this vantage point, as this shot of a Delta Express 737-200 shows.  The (potential) problem comes when there are more than six photographers wanting to shoot the same subject!  In that case, I have seen ladders used by some to photograph clear of the fenceline.  Ladders are officially frowned upon so if you go this route be sure to follow "ladder protocol".  Never keep your ladder next to the fence, instead keep it folded by your car.  Place the ladder only when you are about to take the photo, and once you have made your shot, take the ladder away immediately.  I saw one guy use a ladder on the day I took the Delta Express 737 shot, following ladder protocol, and he wasn't bothered by the authorities.

Approach shots of aircraft 737-400 size and up can be done from the observers' area.  It is very difficult to do through the lens holes, so consider taking a ladder if you are serious about doing approach shots from here.
Here's one that I did do right through the hole; I threw away a number of others, though.

The east-west orientation of the runways means that your best sun angles will be in the winter, when the sun is more southerly.  By April the sun is basically straight down the runway, which provides truly awful lighting!  One partial solution is to photograph the aircraft as they are turning onto the runway from the observers' area, but as you can see from this Princess Vacations 727 photo, the background is pretty lousy!  With a 200mm lens, you can photograph aircraft 727-200 size and longer in this manner.

In the afternoons, if your 50mm lens is small enough to poke through chain-link, you can take great portrait-style photos from the west perimeter fence of aircraft as they turn north from the taxiway towards the runway.  Note that you cannot park your car along the fence in this area--it is CLEARLY signposted--and ladder use is right out, also.  It is within walking distance of the observers' parking lot.  My lenses were too large in diameter for me to try photos from this spot.

West operations are far more problematic.  There is a long term lot southeast of the threshold of 27R.  A short walk from the western edge of this lot reveals a nice fenceline position overlooking the taxiway, theoretically good for photography.  In practice, things did not go well.  I was told by a Broward County sherriff's deputy that I could not take photos at that spot less than 10 minutes after setting up there!

So, I moved my car to the east end of the lot, walked out on the airport service road bordering the eastern edge of FLL, and took approach photos.  I wasn't bothered by anyone, and it turned out most of what interested me that afternoon was arriving traffic anyway!  See my American Int'l L-1011 and Southwest 737-300 photos for examples of pictures from this spot.  As you can see from the Southwest shot, you can even get creative with the palm trees bordering the airport!

Terminal photography is possible, but it would be through tinted glass, and in any case, there seems little reason to try it with two good outside vantage points available.  The elevated causeway between Terminals 1 and 2 do have a view of the taxiway for 9L/27R that might be of limited use on west operations.

I didn't try to get access at any of the FBOs or hangars on the field, so I can't comment there.  There's always interesting aircraft to see on them, though, so access might be worth trying for.

FLL gets plenty of traffic from the U.S. major carriers and some of the Carribbean-flag carriers, but its main claim to fame is the many charter carriers that fly there.  FLL also hosts a large--and growing--number of all-cargo operations.  If you go, especially in the winter, prepare for an interesting day--and to share that day with many other enthusiasts from around the world!

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