Tocumen is Panama's international gateway. Panama's strategic location made the airport a transportation hub and as such it is the busiest airport in Central America by passenger traffic and the only one with two runways for use. Tocumen is the home of Panamanian flag carrier Copa, which also has its maintenance facilities here. Passenger traffic peaks at various hours during the day. Make sure to visit the airport during one of those peaks to bag the entire Copa fleet. Tocumen's cargo area will be expanded in the near future, to the expense of the coast guard air station. This part is named Base Aérea Capitán Juan Delgado and will move to Howard in the near future. The US Department of Homeland Security has a detachment at Tocumen for counter narcotics operations. Construction work on the east side of runway 03L/21R may effect the situation as described.
Tocumen has two semi-parallel runways 03/21. The terminal area is located between the runways, of which runway 03R/21L is mainly used for passenger traffic. The east side of runway 03L/21R houses from south to north the general aviation area, cargo area, Copa maintenance area and coast guard base. Viewing is mainly from the west side, so be sure to visit the airport in the (late) afternoon for the best light conditions.
The airport is located about 30kms east of Panama City and is well signposted. It can easily be reached by taking the Corredor Sur or Via Tocumen west, the latter is named Via España in the city.
Around the Airport
1Terminal area - west side
The terminal area is the start of our tour around Tocumen. Land side views are none, but the situation might change due to ongoing construction works. Air side views are great, nearly all aircraft parked at the gates can be read off. Pictures can be taken of aircraft leaving the runway near gate 20, particularly in the late afternoon.
2Approach & take-off 03L
From the terminal, cross the roundabout and follow the fence on your right. This road is called Calle Aeropuerto. Past the threshold is a large parking lot on your right, before the road bends to the right. Locals are watching aircraft from here, and cab drivers use this spot to have a break. Photography is best late in the afternoon and is possible through the fence, or across the fence if you stay next to the road. Aircraft turning on runway 03L for departure are easy to graph from here and when runway 21R is in use, aircraft can also be caught on their way to the terminal. For the best approach views move to the bend in the road.
3Cargo & storage area - west side
Continue on Calle Aeropuerto, which runs more or less parallel to the runway. A few opportunities exist along this road but views are often hampered by small hills just inside the fence. For better views, turn right on Avenida Jose Augustin Arrango and park at the first bus stop on your right. This is the place to view the aircraft parked on the cargo ramp and view the airliners and propliners in the storage area at the back of the cargo platform. Photography is possible through the fence and best in the late afternoon.
4Approach 21R - aprons & hangars north - west side
A bit further on the same road, continuing from spot 3, a footbridge can be found, which connects another bus stop with the other side of the road. The top of the staircase at the airport side is covered but leaves enough space to swing your camera or binoculars around, without being in full view of the road. Aircraft inside the Copa maintenance hangar can easily be seen, as are aircraft parked on the coast guard apron and inside their main hangar. The apron nearest the runway is in use by both the coast guard and the US Department of Homeland Security. Moreover, aircraft taking off can be seen from here as well, as are aircraft leaving or entering the runway by the two northernmost exits.
5Storage area - east side
For a closer look at the storage area spot 5 comes handy. The road rounding threshold 21R is currently under construction, so instead you will have to take the next road on your right, named Calle La Siesta. This road will lead you to the east side of the airport. Continue to a roundabout and take a sharp right turn; the road bends to the old passenger terminal, which is now in use as part of the cargo area. Hangars and buildings obstruct most views, but to the right part of the storage area is visible. Construction works in this area may affect views in the near future.
6Approach 21L - west side
From spot 5, head back to the roundabout and take a left. This former through road will lead you in the direction of the terminal area, but it has been blocked off long ago. Go as far as you can get, and you will find space on the left hand side of the road with views of the 21L approach. Also, aircraft leaving runway 03R at the northernmost exit can be photographed from here. Light conditions are best in the late afternoon.
7Approach 03R - west side
For the more adventurous, the approach of runway 21R can also be reached. The hardest spot to reach is undoubtedly spot 7. From Avendia Domingo Diaz heading west, take the second exit on your left, after passing the large intersection. Follow this road, it will loose its pavement somewhere along the way, cross the bridge over the highway and continue southbound. Near the airport, the road splits, this is where spot 7 can be found. Views of the 21R approach should be good from here, with photography best in the afternoon. This spot is no longer reachable due to construction work.
8Approach 03R - south side
Spot 8 is easier to find, but harder when you come from the airport as there is no highway exit here, but just an entrance to the highway. You may opt to take the next exit on the Corredor Sur and make a U-turn to reach spot 8. This spot is right at the exit for Las Acacias & Don Bosco. The exit road makes a sharp bend after crossing the highway. On the east side of the highway, room exist to park your car and view approach 03R. A good spot to spend a few hours in the afternoon as most aircraft use this runway. Photography is possible. This spot is no longer reachable due to construction work.
Spot 2 is within walking distance of the terminal; Copa 737 ready to take off from runway 03L. Wim Sonneveld.
The footbridge near threshold 21R is listed as spot 4. Wim Sonneveld.
|119.200 / 119.700||Approach|
|121.200 / 123.300||Approach|
|Servicio Nacional Aeronaval|
|Esc de Ala Fija||C212-300|
|Esc de Helicopteros||AW139|
|HP-791AW||DC-8-62CF, Arrow Panama c/s, wfu|
|HP-1221||CV340, white c/s, blue tail, wfu|
|HP-1226AVL||An-32, Americas Cargo, wfu|
|HP-1227AVL||An-32B, Americas Cargo, wfu|
|HP-1261PVI||B727-25F, white c/s, wfu|
|HP-1473||CL-66B, grey c/s, wfu|
|HP-1585PVI||B727-224F, Panavia Cargo c/s, wfu|
|HP-1614||C-131A, white c/s, wfu|
|HP-1653CTW||B727-277, white c/s, wfu|
|HP-||B727, white c/s, wfu|
|DC-9, white c/s, wfu|
|XA-AEG||L-188A, Mexjet c/s, wfu|
Order of Battle Panama
|Panama - Coast Guard|