Saturday 9th September 2017
A leisurely departure from Gatwick's North terminal saw me arrive there at 1240 and be by the gate 110 at 1310. This was despite my hand baggage getting the secondary search, although that took about 30 seconds and then to irritate me more, not only do you have to walk through duty free but Gatwick decided to have a live band playing, this meant people grinding to a halt in the route through the duty free area. Then they wonder why people delay the flights. The gate 110 which is the A380 gate over the bridge is totally unsuitable for the aircraft load; there are seats for about 200 people I guess.
By this time I had seen a few known faces and once at the gate renewed old acquaintances. We had saved money and time by having a group visa, but I think we were all supposed to be travelling as a group. Alas the person with the document had gone out to Dubai on an earlier flight. The majority of the group flying from Gatwick were on the 1430 departure. I think some of those who checked-in early were delayed by this visa situation, but as I arrived very much last minute by choice, they seemed to know I was coming! Fame at last. The check-in staff said something to me about it but I couldn't quite hear what they said.
Thankfully all was well and before not too long we were aboard A380 A6-EOI bound for Dubai. Only a couple of numbers logged, B767 D-ABUF Condor operating for Thomas Cook who were having some industrial action and a recent re-registration by Norwegian - LN-LNK. The beer selection on board was very poor in my opinion; if it hadn't been free I wouldn't have bothered. Dinner was fine, chicken or beef the choice; I had the latter with some very nice mash potato. I must also mention a very nice pudding - berry crumble and custard mousse. A full flight it seemed but luckily I had changed to an aisle seat. Good food and an extraordinary entertainment system made for a bearable flight to Dubai, arriving at 00.38 local.
The Emirates 380s have three external cameras, two of which face forward; this is the best chance of spotting anything out of the window in the dark. As we neared the terminal I saw an assortment of B777s, KLM, Air France and TC-LKB THY. Also noted were B787s 5Y-KZA Kenyan and V8-DLA Brunei. We parked next to B777 A6-EPE Emirates, no sign yet of any of the new ones which we now rarely see in the southern part of the UK. The terminal is under refurbishment, and a number of the gates were closed. We walked through to the "connections" area where we went through a security check allowing us to move back into the gate area.
We only got about 50 yards as the "Irish bar" was dead ahead. It's now been renamed to something like McGinty's. The main advantage of being in here is that you have "normal" windows to look out of, alas for me it is also a smoking area. If you can't put up with the smoke, then the food court is just nearby, the windows are also OK for looking out of. Most of the terminal windows have mesh or sun screens on, so these two locations are the exceptions. The problem with the majority of gates is you can only get in if you're on that flight, so the afore-mentioned places are the best vantage points. Security here is tight, most of it is covert, the unfortunate thing about the food court is that is where they eat and drink! The bar is generally just passengers.
We stayed here for about two hours, noted were A340 4K-AZ86, B777s RP-C8771 PAL, ET-ANN Ethiopian, N868FD Fedex, B737s VP-BCF Aeroflot, VT-JBX Jet, VT-GHB Air India Exp, A4O-BAE Oman, VT-SZJ/M Spice jet, A320 VN-A699, VT-IFU Indigo, A330 HZ-AQG Saudia and A380s A6-EUF/P. Shortly before boarding we saw B777 A6-EPV and B737s A6-FET/Y, FGG/J Flydubai. Our plane for Beijing was A6-EDV, looking a bit tired now. We departed at 0413 with an estimated 6 hours 45 in the air.
First meal was breakfast, no sign of any bacon or eggs! It was then time for a snooze before they put the lights back on prior to lunch. Why that had to be 3 hours before our ETA heaven knows. At least it was a half decent meal, chicken and mash with runner beans. It was then countdown to Beijing. When I awoke from my snooze I noticed our ETA had slipped about 20 minutes and looking on the route map we had made a detour of three sides of a square so to speak over some western part of China. We landed at 1514, a shade early.
Beijing airport is a sprawling mass with three runways; I believe a second airport is due to open soon, what effect that will have on the current one I can't imagine. On the taxi-in a few were noted including A321 B-MCC Air Macau, B777 HS-TKP Thai and B787 N826AN American. Before we go on, I'm not going to list endless numbers of Chinese liners, perhaps the odd one if it was unusual in some way plus I'll mention some of the visitors. First though we had to extricate ourselves from the terminal. We were travelling on a Group visa which wasn't as straightforward as was hoped, but it did save a lot of money, plus you don't need to surrender your passport before you travel. The Chinese are well known for their pushing, shoving and elbows so remaining in a group to get through immigration was no small feat.
Thankfully we did get through without incident, then it was the transit to the main hall to find our baggage. We were staying at the nearby Langham Place which has a shuttle bus, luckily it was just waiting outside. At the hotel it was the usual concern of whether you had a room with a view or not, and if so was it a good enough view etc etc. We were at a slight disadvantage in as much as half the group had already arrived via Helsinki which is about 3 - 4 hours quicker than by Dubai. With this hotel you really need the 5th floor and a room facing the lake/park, this allows you to see two out of three runways and if you have the 5th floor then you can see a lot more of the airport plus the threshold area of the middle runway. Ideally you need rooms 5001 - 5029 or 4001 - 4029, odd numbers only. The lift area is roughly opposite room **23 and you need to run out into the lift area when something lands of the 3rd runway. The trickiest part here is that you can get landers on all three runways with very little separation, perhaps 1 mile only and you then need to run out and back in a very short time. What the hotel or other guests thought of ten people say emerging from rooms all at the same time, then going back in as quickly as they came out I can't imagine. It reminded me of some strange Japanese game show.
Additional to spotting from the hotel you can go into the park, where there is a viewing mound, a good view of one half of the airport plus the middle runway movements, but reading off the outer runways isn't easy. As happens in nature the trees have grown, so the left hand runway approach is now much harder to view than before. I think that sets the scene, sadly in my opinion is that many people including myself at times find it easier staying in the room with free wi-fi, FR24 etc and not venturing out at all. Some people on the trip I didn't see until we left Beijing. Obviously staying in an air conditioned room with facilities is better than being outside in 30 degrees. The other thing about wi-fi/fr24 is you can very much spot 24/7!, what you count is your business and yours alone. I thought my stints of about 0630 to midnight were a good effort, but one chap said he'd been up to 0200, then up again at 0530. Now that is keen! Beijing only really shuts to passenger flights for about 3-4 hours if that, so he had a point and more numbers.
The breakfast in the Langham really is sumptuous, and in my opinion trousers with deep pockets should always be worn. The evening meals are quite dear so I generally walked to the terminal which takes about 7 -8 minutes and allows you a few more numbers to see. There's not much western choice here, Burger king is the known outlet. The highlights on this first day included A321 HL8038 Asiana, B777s TC-JJR THY, N843FD Fedex and B747 VQ-BGZ ABC. Beijing also has an enormous number of biz jets, many are based and not B dash though. I think there are about 4 bizjet ramps spread out in the airport, very difficult to see them all. On this trip luckily there seemed to be more biz movements than on previous times so that was good. A few noted today included Gulfs N2437, B-3277, TC-DAP and CRJ850 B-3078.
Today was a full days spotting at Beijing, a good breakfast to set me up, then I went over to the park for a few hours, partly for some fresh air, and partly so that they can clean the room etc. I really don't like staying indoors all day if I can avoid it. In the evening it was up to the terminal again for a BK. Not a great evening, but at least I was maximising my time. Some of those seen today included B777s AP-BGK PIA, VQ-BUA Aeroflot, HL7765 KAL, A7-BAT Qatar, TC-JJH THY, B767s 4K-AZ81, JA618A ANA, N118FE Fedex, B787s A6-BLN Etihad, PH-BHH KLM, HL8083 KAL, A340 EP-MMA Mahan, LN-RKF SAS, Tu-204 P-632 Air Koryo, A330s 7T-VJB Air Algerie, HL7525 KAL, N851NW Delta, 4R-ALA, B737s HL8244 KAL, A321 HL8074 Asiana and A350 ET-AUA Ethiopian. A reasonable haul of bizjets today, some noted were Gulfs B-8300, B-8096, B-8271, B-8260, B-8123, VP-CET, M-YANG, N650TY, Phenom B-3385, Cit B-3643, E145 B-3282, CRJs B-3013, Legacy B-3280, M-JCCA and FA7Xs B-8213, M-ZJBT. It goes without saying hopefully that Beijing does get just about every Chinese airline in the book, but some airlines are more prevalent than others. One way or another I logged about 300 in all, plus there were quite a few I didn't need to log.
Today was very much a repeat of yesterday, still writing down a lot and more importantly potting a lot as well. The weather was again hot and sunny, my trip out to the mound was a bit briefer as the heat haze was a little worse, and so it made sense to get back indoors. I'm not sure how often I went out to the lift windows, but I suspect it was twenty to thirty times or so. I would also add that one of the advantages of floor 5 over floor 6 (executive rooms requiring upgrade) is that floor 6 doesn't have a corridor window facing the airport like all other floors. I stayed on floor 4 with occasional visits to floor 5 if required. Today's highlights included B787s PH-BHL KLM, A6-BLF Etihad, JA841J JAL, N806AA AA, VN-A870 Vietnam, B767 UK67008, 4X-EAP El Al, B777s VQ-BQM Aeroflot, F-GSQV Air France, N2243U United, TC-JJY THY, A321 HL8267 Asiana, B737 HL8225 KAL, JU-1087 MIAT, A330 EI-EJK Alitalia, N389HA Hawaiian, Tu-204 P-633 Air Koryo and B747 VQ-BSK Sheikh Khalifa. A few more biz for the book including Gulfs B-8166, N888HZ, N999HZ, B-8292, B-8278, M-GAGA, N312ZW, B-3269, CRJ850 B-3373, Global M-CVGL, N988ZJ, F2000EX N888MX, Global M-LLIN and G280 B-3258.
This morning was a bit of a chill out as they say, the usual sumptuous breakfast, then a few hours in the room before check-out time. Unfortunately Beijing is probably at its quietest around this time, so very little made the log. Of note were B767 4K-AZ82, A340 EP-MMB Mahan and a clutch of new bizjets, Gulfs B-8096, 8301, 8316, FA7X B-8218, VP-CZS and G200 VP-CDL. We then boarded a coach bound for Tianjin. I don't think I've been there that often but the journey is always slow and hot, no real scenery either. Normally we make a pit stop en route, this time we did as before, but as everyone just started to get up, the driver drove off and continued on to Tianjin.
At Tianjin he dropped us at the terminal, and then departed. We checked-in, some using the machines, then bag drop, others just queued once, it didn't make much odds. We then walked outside the terminal and along a bit to read off some Tianjin Embraers, these being E145s B-3086/3091/3092 and E190s B-3162/3220/3245. Instructions to be a little bit discreet were obviously followed as twenty odd westerners mooched around in the trees by the fence! There has also been an increase of corporate movements here, noted were F900 B-8215, F7X B-8218, N939TY, B-8023, N996MS, Challenger B-7769, Legacy N799MS, B400 B-3905, F2000 B-8210, Lineage B-3220, Global N3389H and Gulfstream B-3196. Going back indoors we went through security and got airside for our flight to Xi'an.
As luck would have it, our flight was on gate 212 which was the extremity of the pier. The terminal is a Y shape, so it was a good location to take up root. From here we were able to log all the movements, even those which arrived on a back runway as they had to taxi around into view. Not much was happening at the Airbus facility, outside was a Tibetan A319 plus three Chengdu A320s. After the somewhat predicable movements at Beijing it was good to log a few different types and airlines, this included CRJ 900s B-3250/3369 China Express, MA60's B-3711/5 Joy Air and a pair of Twin Otters B-10GE/B-10GF belonging to Reignwood Air. Our departure was scheduled for 1735, but apparently our flight was to be delayed due to the plane awaiting cleaning. This pleased the majority as we felt collectively that we needed longer here than scheduled. As it turned out we were delayed a lot longer, finally departing at 1929 aboard B737 B-5391 Air China. It was a reasonable flight with probably the group's first encounter of some real Chinese food. No labels, just wrapped up in silver foil, a sort of beefburger, but definitely not beef. My guess was possibly duck, nobody seemed to have an informed opinion.
We arrived at Xi'an at 2101 and managed a few along the terminal as we headed for baggage and the hotel. Noteworthy were A320s HS-BBU Thai AirAsia, 9V-TRM Scoot (merged with Tigerair), HL7744 Air Busan. We were staying at the Regal which is sort of above the terminal. It's a bit tricky describing the layout here, but broadly speaking you need floors 6 to 8 with even numbers. I'd suggest aiming for 760 - 782. Arriving after dark meant it was a bit difficult to get ones bearings, but it seemed to be OK for me at least. I even paid the bar a visit for a quick nightcap, deciding to leave the spotting until the morning in the main.
I got up just before daybreak expecting a mass launch but it didn't materalise so I settled for a big breakfast instead. I then spent all day in the room as I had a good view, nowhere else to go in truth. It's odd what you notice from hotel rooms when you're looking down on local life. Outside the hotel, between us and the taxiway was a divided road, four lanes each side. However, they were driving on the left, not the right as normal in China. The four lanes then also came round into the hotel forecourt. Strangely this hotel entrance road had another four lanes on the right, therefore actually marked up as 8 lanes in, none out! The area was used by locals to wait for flights I suspect, but the local police were up and down continually with megaphone systems moving them all on. What was odd also was that the cars couldn't legally turnaround as it was all lanes in, but most did. In China about 10% of the traffic seems to be going on the wrong side anyway. It was amusing to see cars going the wrong way past each other without being particularly bothered.
Aircraft wise it was a busy morning, and then a desperately slow afternoon, then we rallied in the late afternoon. A few notable bits were seen including A330s OH-LTR Finnair, B737s PK-LQH Lion, LY-AWE Scat, B787 N28912 United and A320 HS-BBP Thai AirAsia. Local traffic included MA60s B-3455/3717 Joy Air, B747F B-2437 Yangste River, B737 B-5511 Jiangxi Air A320 B-8452 Zhejiang Loong Airlines. I don't think I've come across the latter two airlines before. The rest was a good mixture of most airlines. In the evening I had a nice meal in the hotel cafe, a little bit expensive but miles better than Burger King or similar. My room actually faced down the runway approach, parallel runways with a link taxiway which goes right in front of the hotel. Bearing in mind I had a single room, it amused me that like a lot of far eastern hotels there was a glass partition between the bathroom and bedroom. The novelty was that when sat on the throne I could read off aircraft as they taxied past! Just thought I'd share that nice fact with you.
An early start with breakfast at 0530, checked out, checked in and through security for a 0735 flight to Chengdu. It was a fairly fast process with only a handful of people pushing in. Once through it was a quick circuit of the terminal to try and read off everything that was in. Not surprisingly there was not much in that we hadn't seen before. A320 B-6875 China Eastern was our plane this morning and soon enough we were pushed back and taxing. On departure I had a left hand window seat; this allowed me a nice view of a new ramp area containing the stored Dorniers that have been here for many years plus a Falcon 900 N234SA.
The flight was to Chengdu, and it was a bit bumpy at times. It was funny as the stewardess made an announcement in English containing the phrase "don't worry". The in flight catering was interesting - a sort of bread roll which personally I thought had some sweet substance in it, someone else reckoned they were miniature prawns in paste! That was that and a bottle of water - what luxury. China Eastern also has a policy of not collecting the leftovers - we were instructed to put the rubbish in the seat back pockets. We arrived at Chengdu at 0901, very wet and murky. Those sat on the right were treated to a nice view of Il-76 R10-002 plus a few biz including Cit 560 B-3666 and F7Xs N166CK, B-8217.
We made it onto stand and through to baggage claim, then assembled landside. Although it was raining we made a quick walk to the nearby airport hotel which was to be home for the next two nights. Obviously being before 1000 our rooms were not yet available but they did manage to allocate us four rooms with views which the group could split into. This sufficed until lunchtime when rooms were cleaned and available. The terminal here is massive and although the hotel is set back, you really need to be on floor 7 and above to see what is going on. For a view you need even numbers and ideally in the middle part of the hotel. The reason for the middle being good is there is one gap in the terminal building complex and rooms in the middle numbered 04 to 34 should look through to the runway. Mind you it's only a small gap, half a plane in view at best.
I spent the remainder of the day in the room as did most others. There are two runways here, the one in front of the hotel was being used for take-offs in the main with occasional landings. Although you can read off a lot of departures you need a flight tracker to prompt you when to be ready. The other runway is used for landings and occasional departures when it gets very busy. A few of note this afternoon included A321s VN-A339/615 Vietnam, B-MCD Air Macau, B-16220 Eva, B787 ET-ATL Ethiopian, B737 9V-MGH Silk Air and CRJ 900 B-3360 China Express. We also encountered Ruili Airlines, Qingdao and Lucky Air for the first times in earnest, plus Tibet Airlines who seem to be everywhere in China now. After dark I ate in the hotel restaurant rather than troop back to the terminal where the choice of western outlets is very limited.
Today was another day to be spent largely in front of the window! First though, breakfast needed to be taken. A little bit less western in Chengdu, but there was the traditional bacon, eggs and beans. The sausages were a bit of a challenge though. Tea and coffee was by special request only. After eating I spent a few hours by the window, unguarded trolleys are always a target. At 1000 most of the group departed for Guanghan civil aviation college where we had a visit arranged. On the way we passed the "Global centre" which is apparently the largest building in Asia. Inside was a massive amount of retail outlets, parks and hotel accommodation. The college has been visited before, not much if anything has changed. It is still nice to see a Trident, B-2206, IL-14 676 and an assortment of Y-7s.
The neighbouring airfield was a different story. Outside was CJ B-3644, MA60 B-3726 and a few light aircraft buzzing around. The visibility was very poor with light drizzle. By walking into the extreme corner of the college compound, a further CJ B-7777 could be seen inside a hangar. As we started to leave, another CJ B-3650 returned to base. These CJs belong to the Civil Aviation Flight University of China, but there seems to be conflicting information as to how many there are and how many are based here. It was then back to Chengdu and the hotel for an afternoons spotting. The taxi rank outside still amuses me as on my previous visit, at times it has an incredibly long line up. Occasionally a public car got in the special lane, which has a barrier all the way round, a bit peeving to be stuck in there for 20 - 30 minutes. Aircraft wise of note were A330s 9M-XXI Air Asia, A6-EYF Etihad, B787 PH-BHC KLM, B777 HS-TJW Thai AW, B737 9V-MGF/O Silk Air, A320 RDPL-34223 Lao Airlines and CRJ850 B-7795.
In the evening we walked past the terminal to view Y-7 B-3497 which is in a private area, but the guard didn't seem to mind. Another night noshing in the hotel which wasn't much more than the fast food terminal option!
It was a leisurely check-out after a half decent breakfast with then a quick wizz around all the piers. Our flight was at 1030 to Zhengzhou where we were having a long transit before going on to Shanghai. Thankfully, being airside allowed me to see both the new ARJ liners B-3321/2 in Chengdu colours. It looks like a 717 to me to be honest. Quite a large number of the group spotted from the end of the pier with no hassles. Soon it was time to board our flight, this done by B737 B-1400 China Southern. Annoyingly, CS refused to check us and bags through to Shanghai. We were away at 1058, arriving into Zhengzhou at 1234. A new airport for all of us I think, absolutely massive. We didn't know what to expect really, but fortunately we found a transfer desk that checked us through to Shanghai. That saved going out and coming back in, which one or two did by mistake, then they weren't allowed back in until closer to the departure time. Movements ticked over all the time with quite a good mixture plus a number of international freight movements including B747Fs N408MC Atlas, N782CK Kalitta, and B-LJG Cathay. Others noted included A320 XU-356 Cambodia Angkor, A321 B-16209 Eva, B737s HS-LTL Thai Lion, B-6995 Urumqi Airlines (another new airline?) and a few biz - Gulf's B-3029, B-8373, F7X B-8206 and Hawker B-3909. MA60 B-3716 rounded things off nicely.
It then transpired that our flight was delayed, most of this information coming from FR24, nothing informative on the screens, although there may have been an announcement in Chinese. We never found out any reasons or were we given any revised departure times; the only information came from FR24. By chance someone noticed there was a complimentary food parcel at the desk, so the locusts descended. Eventually we got away aboard B737 B-1582 at 2047 arriving into Shanghai Hongqiao at 2207, about two and a half hours late. This obviously curtailed our evening spotting a bit, albeit we had been doing well at Zhengzhou.
Our hotel here was the Boyue Airport hotel and it was very nice indeed. With only one runway it was relatively easy to monitor all movements and slowly every available stand was filled up by returning airliners. This is one of those airports where eventually everything that is in, night stops and departs early in the morning. First departures were 0630 so the plan was to get the first two hours of departures then break for breakfast, the first arrivals weren't due until after 0800. All went to plan, about sixty departures including a lot of Spring and Juneyao which we hadn't seen much of yet. Breakfast was a grand offering, including some bits for a mid morning snack. Because of our late arrival the night before, we delayed our check-out and departure until 1400. Some of those seen included B777 JA705J JAL, B787 JA840A ANA and A321s B-MCD/E Air Macau, plus a good selection of biz. Some of those noted were Gulfs N678GA, B-8252/7, B-8278, M-GAGA, B-3239, N63108, N3398A, N550GU, F900 N28VL, F7X B-8203, B-3270, H4000 B-3910, Cit 680 B-9630 and G200 B-8129.
Movements ticked over but by lunchtime we were starting to get some repeats already, so on balance we were ready to depart for Shanghai Pu Dong. The coach journey was reasonable and the traffic behaved itself. Arriving at Pu Dong, I was a little surprised to see the Jade 747s still stored along with a few others aircraft from a long time back. We were staying at the hotel above the terminal now called the Dazhong Airport Hotel. Getting a suitable room here isn't easy as the majority of rooms only face one side and then you need to be on a high floor. A few in the group had some of the "end" rooms deliberately, these look out on the thresholds and approach/departure, but they are only singles. These were available for others in the group to use. Noted during the afternoon and evening were B777s P4-XTL, A7-BAE Qatar, N706DN Delta, HS-TKZ Thai, VP-BGD Aeroflot, B787s C-GHQY Air Canada, ET-ARE Ethiopian, N17963 United, A330s 9M-MTD MAS, HL7747 Asiana, VH-QPC Qantas, A321s VN-A605 Vietnam, VN-A684 Vietjet, A320 RP-C3237 Cebu, RP-C8397 PAL and MD11 N294UP. A good line up of biz too, noted were F7X M-MNCC, Gulfs N333MB, N589K, N65FG, B-8128, N914X, N247EM, F900 N73PS, Global N7777U, Cit 560 B-9823, CRJ 850 N296TX and Legacy B-3096.
The food in this hotel is predominantly Asian which is somewhat surprising for a very international destination. I sloped off towards the terminal for food, there is a passageway leading to the terminals that is full of food and drink outlets plus what you find in the terminals. KFC and Macs are both within 2 minutes of the hotel. Spoilt for choice eh?
Pu Dong has a lot of freight movements, some noted were MD11 N616FE Fedex, B747Fs HL7400 Korean, VQ-BBH Silkway, B-LJB Cathay, JA18KZ ANA, N853GT Polar, B767F N339UP, B777F B-2076/B-2094 China Cargo, N887FD Fedex and also a lot of international traffic. Some of the international flights included B737s HL7786 Jin Air, JA303/312/320J JAL, HL7727 Korean, B777 HS-TBF Thai, VQ-BQM Aeroflot, HL7531 Korean, B-18503 China AL, ET-ANN Ethiopian, HS-TKK Thai, TC-JJS THY, A330s HL8212 Korean, B-18355 China AL, HL8293 Asiana, RP-C8763 PAL, A380 D-AIMG Lufthansa, A350 OH-LWF Finnair, HL8078 Asiana, B787s A6-BLF Etihad, G-VZIG Virgin, C-FGEO Air Canada, ZK-NZF Air NZ, N26966 United, XA-AMR AeroMexico, A340s HB-JMD Swiss, EP-MNH Mahan, LN-RKF SAS, B747 N668US Delta, A321 VN-A332 Vietnam, A320 RP-C4102 Cebu and B767 OE-LAW Austrian. I spotted from the room first thing but spent most of the day in 8801 along with a small crowd and a few frequent visitors. Although standing around gawping out the window is a bit tiresome, there are plenty of movements to keep you amused and of course an endless tirade of banter! The evening repast was in a nearby local cafe, spicy beef and rice plus something in a bowl which resembled crème brulee but definitely wasn't. It was however better than the previous nights Macs.
Another early start with an Asian style breakfast although I discovered some meatballs and potato hiding in the corner. Add some fried rice and noodles and it was almost in the sumptuous bracket. Spotting again was from room 8801 with the following highlights B767F N103FE, A350 OH-LWH Finnair, A330 HS-XTD Thai AirAsia, HL8211 Korean, EC-MNK Iberia, B747F B-1340 Yangste, N476MC Atlas, VQ-BBM Silkway, B777s VP-BGF Aeroflot, HL7784 Korean, B777F ET-ARH Ethiopian, A350 HL8079 Asiana, A321 HL7789 Asiana and B787 A6-BLM Etihad.
At noon we checked out and departed by coach to another new destination, - Hangzhou. I was under the impression that it wasn't too far away, but I was wrong as we had a 3 hour trip In ever worsening weather, rain, murk and poor visibility nearly the whole way which was annoying as we were spending precious little time outside the hotel rooms and it was a shame not to be able to see the countryside. Finding the hotel proved a bit tricky for the driver but I guess he'd never been to Hangzhou before either. He eventually deposited us outside a very nice hotel in the pouring rain with visibility of about 1000 metres.
There are two runways here and naturally the rooms can only face one way, but the entire group was all on one floor, so we had an open door policy for the evening with people rushing from one side to the other to catch a lander or see one departing. The aircraft were disappearing into the cloud at about 100ft so you had to be quick to see anything. Without SBS or FR24 we would have seen just about zilch. Dinner was an amusing event, I with a spotting chum went up to the restaurant where most of the group was already sat down, and we ordered our meals plus some beer without too much fuss. I don't think they often get many westerners so some of the others who had got there before us and were in larger groups were still waiting when our beer and food arrived. This seemed to cause some consternation amongst those waiting but it wasn't our fault. My curry chicken, rice and vegetables were very nice, as was my beer at a pound a bottle! Spotting recommenced with many a number hitting the log. Only a few international liners here - B737 PK-CMV Sriwijaya Air, JA02AN ANA, HS-LTT Thai Lion, A330 B-16312 Eva, A7-ACL Qatar, A320s VN-A684 Vietjet, 9M-AHP Air Asia, VN-A568 Jetstar, A321 XU-350 Cambodia Angkor and B787 9V-OFB Scoot. This airport/city is base to Zhejiang Loong so we made good inroads into their fleet. A few biz were lined up, including Challenger B-8233, F7X B-8028, F2000EX B-3211, Global N998ZX and Gulfstreams B-8288, VP-CJR, N528YT, N550TY.
Some of the group decided to go over to the terminal early and get all the numbers, missing breakfast but I put my stomach first and went a little bit later. Not a great breakfast but it didn't take long and they'd gone to the effort of recycling last nights chips especially for us. We could also monitor departures from the breakfast room so I don't think I missed much. An airport shuttle deposited us at the airport in no time; check-in was again frustrating as today we were going to Guangzhou with a long transit in Xiamen. Alas, Xiamen also refused to check us through to Guangzhou.
Putting this aside I made the customary circuit of the piers, other spotters doing the same and in not too long a time we were at the gate. We were flying with Xiamen, domestic, but we had a bus ride to the plane, always welcome, but we headed off to the International terminal which seemed a bit odd. B737 B-5458 was our plane today and I found out later it was bound for Kuala Lumpar, hence our slightly odd bus journey. I assume some passengers boarded from the international area too. We departed at 08.25 and arrived into a bright and sunny Xiamen at 09.33. It was nice to see some sun after a few very murky days.
Xiamen only has one runway with a very long terminal, so monitoring proceedings here should also be straight forward. First though we had to collect our bags and get checked in for our flight to Guangzhou. Unlike the last occasion this time we all had to go out and check back in again, thankfully there was no real queue so we were all done in pretty quick time. The security search was something else, not just the usual items like laptop, watch, belt etc but just about all the contents of our carry-on bags had to come out and be screened. I've no idea if this is normal here, but they made a real mess of everyone's bags, with some items coming out in different trays. At least the security girls found it amusing, they all giggled continually for some reason.
Once through this kerfuffle we found some suitable gate area which wasn't to busy and settled down for the afternoon. Here you get a reasonable mix of airlines as well as a lot of Xiamen naturally. It didn't seem as busy as when I was last here but that's the way it goes. Of note were A321 RP-C9903 PAL, A330s HL8227 Korean, B-18312 China Airlines, B747F LX-VCJ Cargolux, B737s 9V-MGK Silk Air, 9M-MLM MAS, 4L-TGO Georgian Airways, B767 JA608A ANA and B777 HS-TJG Thai AW. By late afternoon we were ready to depart to Guangzhou which would be a lot busier. Our flight was a little delayed but that's normal in China. I think the military still controls the airspace so passenger flights take a lower priority. Eventually B737 B-5385 departed to Guangzhou and we arrived at 17.19.
Once we had collected bags we walked to our hotel - the Pullman which was to be our home for the next few days. The check-in at the hotel was a very long drawn out process with many people including myself getting rooms with no views. Thankfully I got my changed to a suitable one without too much fuss or delay. Room numbers required are evens ending in 02 to 36, floor 5 and above preferably block 2 rather than block 1 I'd suggest. In the dark I found it very difficult to get my bearings when using FR24 especially as everything on the system was about 500yds out. A few numbers went in the log, B777F N886FD and A320 9M-AJE Air Asia, but with room changing, a food expedition to the terminal and getting lost in the hotel I called it a night. I finished the day with a local Cantonese meal, chicken wings and rice washed down with a beer. Nothing special but good to keep the locals employed. Most of these small cafes are vastly overstaffed, sometimes to ridiculous levels.
An interesting view out of the window, firstly the cross taxiway is now closed as they appear to have extended the terminal out across the taxiway, but that means they've also lost some stands so it doesn't seem a great move. Also some aircraft now have to taxi around 3 sides of the airport instead of 1 so again what's the point. On a non aircraft theme there were some gigantic bats flying just in front of the hotel, easily confused with aircraft movements out of the corner of your eye. A new airline here is 9 Air, an odd flight program, 9 or 10 departures between 0600 and 0700, then returning between midnight and 0200. No flights by them between those hours.
It was very busy here at times, with plenty of variety and a good quota of cargo/biz. I didn't see them myself but one of the other lads said he'd seen/noted about 16 Fedex flights one night. Unfortunately a lot of the cargo is out of view, doesn't track on FR24 and then suddenly flashes past the window. A few highlights included B777F N859FD, A6-EFK Emirates, B777 HZ-AK20 Saudia, ET-ASL Ethiopian, B747F HL7436 Asiana, A330 VQ-BPI Aeroflot, HL8026 Korean, 9V-SSE Singapore, HL8293 Asiana, A340 EP-MMF Mahan, A320s 9M-AQX Air Asia, 9V-TRD Scoot, B787 JA837J JAL, A319 XY-AGR Myanamar,,A321 VN-A362 Vietnam, PK-GNA Garuda and BBJ N2708E. Local flights are dominated by China Southern, but there was plenty of variety from the other Chinese carriers. Breakfast was a really sumptuous one you'll be glad to hear, but evening meals required a visit to the terminal which is almost joined to the hotel.
Today was a repeat of yesterday in most cases but there was one notable movement which I can honestly say I've never seen before. There was a note in the rooms about external cleaning of the hotel which I can't say I took much notice of, but during the morning a rope was dangled past the window and then a smiling Chinese man came past, looked at me and said with a big smile "hello". "Hello". I waved back and thankfully he didn't let go of his rope. He then cleaned the windows and carried on his merry way. The Pullman is a very nice hotel and a good alternative to the China Southern one nearby. I would say though FR24 is often a necessity if you're spotting from the room. Apart from the local traffic I noted A320 RP-C8619 PAL, 9V-TAR Tiger Air, A330s OH-LTU Finnair, A4O-DA Oman, HL8258 Asiana, HL7585 Korean and VQ-BQY Aeroflot.
Today was the end of the trip for some who were returning home via either Emirates or Finnair. We checked out about noon, said our farewells to those going home and those remaining boarded a coach bound for Shenzhen. The driver insisted we wore our seatbelts, no arguments there, and then pulled right out in front of two oncoming lanes of traffic. I suppose he did warn us. It was about a two hour drive to Shenzhen, a sprawling city the size of London.
We were staying at the Hyatt Place adjacent to the terminal, the rooms overlook the threshold of one runway and you can monitor the other runway if they are landing in one direction, so with the ever mentioned FR24 you have most things covered. The terminal is between the hotel and the planes so you need to wait for movements to see things. The biz ramps and freight areas are visible but not from every room, so an element of ducking and weaving is required. The service lift area was one good vantage point as was a roof area at the end of the 10th floor!
The hotel adjoins another Hyatt building which are apartments but you can access this and use a 12th floor bar/restaurant which offered panoramic views and jugs of beer! Not a bad combination at the end of a long tiring day of spotting. We spotted from here until quite late, but decided to retire early and then spot in daylight early the next morning. Those of note before beer were MA60 B-3435, B737F B-2897 YTO, B747Fs N577UP, N582UP, B767 N309UP, A320s 9M-AGB AirAsia, HS-BBA Thai Air Asia and B737 9V-MGM Silk Air. A few biz also crept into the book, Gulfs N650TY, B-8161, B-8262, N906FS, B-8132, Global N7699, Challenger N899KK, F8X N88FJ and Cit 560 B-3643.
The breakfast room also offered a view of movements so a leisurely breakfast was taken, no need to rush back to the rooms. The movements came in fits and starts, not helped by them changing ends more than once. Still, no one said it had to be easy. A Y-7 was a popular movement but so too were frequent biz and old freighters. Noteworthy were B737F PK-BBC Cardig Air Cargo, B737 PK-LPI Lion, A330 B-18355 China AL and Global 9H-VJA.
For the second day running we had another coach ride, this time one with 5 seats across. Our final destination of the trip was Hong Kong which involves a rather daunting land crossing. Only daunting in that it can be extremely busy and as we were traveling on a group visa, this meant being processed in strict number order. Somehow we managed to do this without any mishaps and even located our waiting coach on the other side. We reached Honkers by mid afternoon and on this occasion we were staying at the Novotel Citigate hotel near to the DC-3.
Despite it being mid afternoon the hotel seemed to be having trouble providing the requested rooms with good views, but we did have executive floor rooms and use of the lounge and its facilities which some people seemed to take full advantage of. I think the problem was related to late check outs by airline staff in particular, but all the time people were quaffing down free food and drink the delay didn't seem to be a big issue. The hotel is a bit too far away from the action for my liking, in daylight you can see all movements and planes moving on the ground, but once dark it becomes a bit of a lottery.
Apart from the Hong Kong Airline fleets, I suspect most people are attracted by Hong Kong's rich vein of visitors. These are aircraft from all over Asia and most parts of the world. A few highlights were B747s HL7644 Korean, TC-ACG Saudia, VP-BBY ABC, HL7417 Asiana, VP-BCH Skygate, N857GT Polar, N579UP, A350 D-AIXB Lufthansa, B-18905 China AL, 9V-SME Singapore, B777s ET-AOS/ET-APU Ethiopian, HB-JNE Swiss, HL7715 Korean, N774SA Southern, A6-EFH/EFL Emirates, N2142U United, A330s DQ-FJV Fiji, PK-GPX Garuda, VH-QPA/QPD Qantas, A319 LX-MCO, A320s JA13VA Vanilla, RP-C8971 Air Asia, VN-A663 Vietjet, A321s B-16207/16220 Eva, B787 A7-BCW Qatar and B737s PK-GMU Garuda, XY-ALC Myanamar. A number of new Hong Kong liners plus a steady trickle from China all added to the log.
The last full day of the trip for me as I had opted for a slightly shorter extension if that makes sense. So after the usual it was over to the bus station and a trip on the S52 to the HAECO area via the various biz ramps. Hong Kong has a frustrating biz area to be sure; impossible to get them all unless someone invites you in. The biggest problem is that there are so many and they block others out. These are some of what we got, probably less than 50%. F7X VP-CTG, VP-CDY, Gulfs VP-CNP, VP-BLF, B-KVC, B-KCK, B-8253, N88AY, N663DC, N888XS, N1948S, VP-CMR, VP-CPY, Globals N838SC, B-LRH, B-KEZ, VP-CZJ, VP-CEW, N2QE, N3389H, VH-IEJ, Challengers VP-CCE, B-LVA/LVB, N605PS, N15VC, M-AAEL and Lineage N966MS. After this excursion we returned to the air conditioned executive lounge and rooms for some relaxed winding down spotting. Amid the free food and drinks here are a few highlights, B747s LX-VCM Cargolux, VP-BCI Skygate, N854GT Atlas, N453PA, JA17KZ Nippon Cargo, B777s A6-EPM Emirates, B-16730 Eva, A7-BFI Qatar, N868FD, HL7715 Korean, HB-JNH Swiss, A320s RP-C9918 PAL, JA11JJ Jetstar, 9M-NEO Air Asia, VN-A570 Jetstar, JA06VA Vanilla, JA811P Peach, VQ-BPN S7, B787s JA823J JAL, A7-BCA Qatar, A330s RP-C3347 Cebu, LN-RKS SAS, HL7741 Asiana, DQ-FJW Fiji and A350s D-AIXD Lufthansa, 9V-SMG Singapore. Also noted were Jetstreams B-HRS/HRT and a Puma B-HRM.
Up extra early, a light breakfast and off to the airport for my 0750 departure to Dubai. Not a lot to trouble the scorers, just B747Fs HL7623 Korean, VQ-BGZ ABC and B737 PK-GMO Garuda before B777 A6-ENO powered me to Dubai. A full flight and the dreaded middle seat, luckily I managed to swap it for an aisle when I got on. We arrived into Dubai early at 11.32 and I made my way to the food court area where the windows are more spotter friendly and there are less security. A few noted before I have to board good ole EK9 A6-EOA back to the wick. Of note were A320s 9K-AKF Kuwait, 4K-AZ11, AP-BLS PIA, HZ-AS38 Saudia, A321 VT-PPB Air India, B737s EZ-A020 Turkmenistan, YI-ASJ Iraqi, VT-JGP Jet AW, B787 VT-ANY Air India and B777F N885FD. A pleasant flight if there is such a thing, lightly loaded, food and drink OK as usual. I arrive back at Gatwick early at 19.19.
My thanks go to Mark Osborn and Aeroprints for a very well organised trip, to a degree difficult to make it interesting when 95% of what you see are B dash liners, but that's what we signed up for. My return was very good as was the general banter and camaraderie as usual.