Spotter's Report: West Palm Beach International Airport (PBI)
by Andrew Abshier, DVM
 

PBI has always ranked lower in the list of must-see airports in south Florida.  The selection of airlines is no different than MIA or FLL, and there are fewer movements.  Despite that, I ended up spending a fair amount of time at PBI; it was only 6 miles (9.6km)  fromf Lake Worth, where I was staying for the two months I was in Florida, versus 22 miles (35.5 km) for FLL and 48 miles (77.5km) for MIA.  PBI does have a few regional movements not seen at other Florida airports--the Bahamasair Shorts 360, for example--and during "The Season" (December-April) the south side is just covered in bizjets, some of airliner size!

The terminal building is large and rather opulent, befitting its relatively wealthy clientele.  Inside, there is quite a lot of marble around, and the cafeteria even has a live pianist to provide tasteful (of course) background music!   Concourses are accessible to all.  There's plenty of glass, but it is slightly tinted.  Since I don't like photographing through glass unless absolutely necessary, I didn't try any photos from the concourses.

For spotters, there are two places of merit on the airport.  The seven-story parking garage has a commanding view of the entire terminal ramp and runways.  If you have high-powered binoculars you can read off everything, even if it is operating from the south side.  The other place is the airplane watcher's park, located just off Southern Blvd. directly opposite the passenger terminal.  This gives a great view of all operations, and as a bonus puts the spotter much closer to the considerable bizjet activity on the south side.

Photography is problematic.  The terminal faces south, and thus into the sun, so the parking garage is not that useful if you're there on a sunny day.  The long-term parking lot east of the terminal is quite close to the taxiway for Runway 09, but again faces south.  I did get a good shot of an Air Transat 737-400 there, on an overcast day.  Note that the entrance to this lot also leads to the vast employee parking area.   From the employee lot you can get good photos of Concourse B movements (DL, DL Express, TW, UA, AC, and Air Transat) in the morning; see my Air Canada A320 for example.

Fences are agreeably low, at 6 ft (1.8m) high.  You will not need a ladder at this airport; a 5 gallon paint bucket worked fine for me!

No public parking is allowed in the employee side, but you can walk over on foot.  I did get stopped twice by airport operations personnel using this spot.  The first, an older gentleman who was driving an airport vehicle inside the lot, asked me what I was doing.  Once I explained that I was there to take photos for myself, and would stay on the public side of the perimeter fence, he was satisfied and let me go about my business. Later, a second operations agent--this time driving over from the ramp--asked me to leave!  When I politely explained that the first ops agent said I could stay there to take photos, he backed off, saying that he didn't want to go back on the first ops agent's word.   I was meticulously polite at all times, and I believe that paid off.  That said, the employee lot spot was very boring, with only 4-5 airplanes passing within camera range in the two hours I was there!

On the opposite side of the terminal, the road leading to the Airport Operations office has a great view of the gates for US, AirTran, and the regional types.  I did some nice photos from here in the afternoon; see my USAir 737-400 for example.

The south side does have some goodies on view.  Bizjets are plentiful at all times, but especially during The Season.  Some can be photographed easily over the fence, but discretion is advised, since most bizjet owners are not keen on having their aircraft captured on film!  Since you're facing north from the south side sun angles are slightly better; see my shot of Donald Trump's personal 727-100 for an example.  Like all of south Florida, though, the sun gets very high as you get towards summer; had this 727-100 of Pax Net not been so unusual, I wouldn't have bothered taking the photo because it was parked on an east-west heading.

There are even a few props, mainly the three DC-3s operated by Mission Flights on relief trips to Haiti.  I also spotted a De Havilland Dove on the south side, with a "For Sale" sign on it.

In short, PBI is worth a look, especially if you're on the way to Orlando from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale.
 

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