For years Miami has been one of the most interesting airports for enthusiasts in the world. Being at the crossroads of North America, the Caribbean and Latin America meant that nearly every national airline from the latter two areas had a scheduled services to Miami, which was often the only scheduled destination in the USA. Due to a lot of mergers between airlines, the diversity of traffic has certainly suffered. You used to see aircraft of say ten different airlines where you only see TACA and LAN today.
Nevertheless, Miami is still worth a longer visit, as you can still see aircraft and airlines you do not see elsewhere in the USA. In addition to that, Miami has a significant amount of cargo traffic (with airlines from all over the world), maintenance companies and a busy FBO. Add to that the great photo opportunities and you known why many aviation enthusiasts consider Miami as a top destination.
The only negative point to take into account is that law enforcement is not as relaxed as they used to be pre 9/11. This particularly holds for staying at other locations than spots 1, 3 and 4. You may be forced to leave when elsewhere.
Given the amount of traffic Miami is rather compact in terms of area. It has four runways, of which three are parallel with a single diagonal runway. All runways are used during daytime, but some patterns are recognisable. With easterly operations, most landings are on runways 8R and 9, with take-offs from 8R and 12. Runway 9 is often used for departure by cargo traffic. When winds are from the west, landings are usually on runways 26L and 30, with take-offs from runway 27. Runway 8L/26R is mostly used by bizjets.
The main terminal area is on the eastern side of the airport, in between the parallel runways. Cargo buildings and ramps are situated between runways 12/30 and 9/27. The north side is for FedEx and UPS, the FBOs and maintenance companies. Underneath the approach for runways 26L and 26R, east of Le Jeune Road, is the George T. Baker aviation school, which has some aircraft parked outside.
Multiple highways bring you to Miami International. From downtown and Miami Beach there are highway 112 (Airport Expressway, a toll road) and highway 836 (Dolphin Expressway). From the south (Kendall, the Keys) and north (Fort Lauderdale, Opa-locka) the Palmetto Expressway (highway 826) is easier.
Busses of Metrobus can bring you to all vantage points. See the Miami-Dade Transit website for routes and schedules. Under construction is the Miami Intermodal Center (MIC), east of Le Jeune Road, which will be located next top the rental car center. The MIC will give you a choice of buses, Metrotail and Tri-Rail.Amtrak trains. An automated people mover will bring you to and from the terminals. It was planned to be opened in spring 2010.
Around the Airport
At the end of NW 25th Street, where the road turns a bit to the south near the customs clearing building, the airport authorities have made special holes in the fence to make photography easier. This holds in particular for making photos of aircraft lining up on runway 12. The same applies to aircraft heading for runway 8R, but heatwaves will trouble you most of the day. Taking pictures of landing aircraft through the holes requires some practice. The best thing about this spot is that photography is officially allowed, according to the signs next to the holes.
Across the road from 'the holes' is a large cargo looking building with dirt parking under a large tree (on 65th Avenue). Park there and not on the paved lot down the road. However, the latest reports are that 'no parking' is enforced here, so beware.
2Cargo building 706
The roof of cargo building 706 offers a great view of the aircraft parked in front of it. Be sure to take the western branch only (thus turn right after driving up the ramp from NW 21st Avenue), as chances are that US Customs will make your life miserable on the eastern branch. However, even here staying here too long will result in a visit of security, so only make a quick visit: read the numbers, make your shot and drive on.
When runway 9 is used it is possible to make good landing and line-up shots near the El Dorado Furniture warehouse/showroom. This is at the dead end of NW 72nd Ave, off NW 12th St. Do not park at the lot of El Dorado, but only at the extreme end of the road. Still you may be sent away, either by the Miami Dade police or El Dorado staff. The probability of being visited by law enforcement can be reduced by staying away from the fence as much as possible.
In between the road and the runway are some railroad tracks. In case a train passes by, or is "parked" there, your view may (temporarily) be obstructed. In that case you can back walk about 50 metres to a parking area near Armondo's Check Casing.
Runway 9 is used in particular by cargo aircraft, both during arrival and departure. So when you stay only at the Customs (spot 1), you may miss them completely.
494th Aero Squadron restaurant
The only 'legal' place left along the Perimeter Road on the south side of the airport is at the parking lot of the 94th Aero Squadron which is accessible from northbound NW 57 Avenue, just north of the 836 overpass. It is good for "loggers", but less suitable for photographers, because between the car park and the fence is a busy road and a railroad and you are not allowed to use stairs within 10 feet from the fence. Effectively this means that you need to stay on the south side of the road. Still with a long lense you may still be able to take some pictures.
Just south of spot 4, on Blue Lagoon Drive, the Hilton hotel offers great views over the airport.
If you are only interested in taking landings photos of aircraft landing on runway 30, there are two spots alternative to the restaurant (spot 4). The first one is in the northeast corner of the Maceo Park, off NW 7th Street. You can park your car west of the entrance and then need to walk through the park. The aircraft will be visible for about 15 seconds and you will hardly hear them until they are close to you, so keep your camera ready!
The dead end of NW 47th Avenue is itself an alternative to spot 5. You are closer here, but also a bit more underneath the approach pad. It is just a matter of what you like most. It is advisable to be with someone here, to avoid looking too suspicious.
7George T. Baker technical school
With westerly winds runways 26L and 30 are the main landing runways. For the first runway you need to be near the George T. Baker technical school, for example in front of the Avis Rent-A-Car centre. From this spot you have a short time to get the inbounds as they come over a group of trees and pass before you. Not the best place, but doable when they are using 26L.
High level rooms in the odd range ending between 03-15 give you excellent views on runway 08L/26R and 08R/26L arrivals and departures. Also aircraft at the north side of the terminal can be identified easily. Action on the other runways can also be seen from here, but reading off is difficult is impossible due to distance (heatwaves). Having an SBS set up in your room may do the trick for these aircraft.
Taking photos is difficult, as there are double windows. You may be able to open one window with some tool, but still need to deal with the other window.
At El Dorado Furniture you can take excellent photos of aircraft landing on or taking off from runway 9. (Leo Hoogerbrugge)
This photo by Leo Hoogerbrugge shows the possibilities at the roof of one of the cargo buildings (spot 2).
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