Canada through the eyes of an Aviation Photographer
Aviation in Canada certainly differs a lot from Europe and the rest of the world. With about a dozen Boeing 737-200's many other classic aircraft still in regular service the country offers great subjects for aviation enthusiasts like myself. Most airports offer great photo opportunities and are spotter friendly. In Summer of 2022 I flew to Canada for three weeks, exploring Ontario and Quebec. Here's Canada through my eyes as an aviation photographer.
Flying on Air Canada
There are many different ways of getting to Canada from Switzerland. Originally we were supposed to
go to Canada in summer 2020, which for quite obvious reasons didn't work out. Lufthansa was not only the cheapest,
but also the most exciting way of flying to Canada back then due to their 747-400's operating on the Frankfurt-Toronto
Anyway, summer 2021 didn't work out either, so we finally used our Lufthansa vouchers in summer 2022. We ended up booking flights on Air Canada. To get to Frankfurt we took flight LH1193 departing from Zürich early in the morning. The flight was operated by a 25.5 year old Airbus A319-114 registered as D-AILL.
Takeoff from Zürich onboard D-AILL
Our flight from Zürich to Frankfurt was short and rather uneventful. We landed on runway 25C around 8am in an unusually
sunny Frankfurt. Our connecting flight to Toronto-Pearson was supposed to depart at 9:45am. Transitioning in Frankfurt
was no big deal and we reached our gate comfortably early which gave us plenty of time to relax before an 8 hour flight in
Fast forward to 10am, boarding was supposed to have started almost an hour ago, yet no busses had arrived yet at our gate to bring us to our aircraft. Our gate was exteremly crowded and no one could provide any information on when we would be able to board. All seats were taken so we had to stand for more than two hours until boarding finally started.
Lufthansa Boeing 747-8I seen during busboarding at FRA
Boarding Air Canada Boeing 777-333(ER)
We finally walked up the stairs two hours after schedulded departure time. I was seated in 57D, one of the last rows. We finally took off 2 hours and 45 minutes behind schedule. An hour or so into the flight drinks were served and soon after our food arrived. I went for chicken with an unidentifiable side.
Lunch service on AC841: Chicken with an unidentifiable side
Food was terrible, especially the unidentifiable side. The chicken was alright though. Right after meal service the crew ordered all passengers to close the window shades despite our flight being a dayflight and the time of our departure airport being roughly 4pm. The shades remained shut until about an hour before landing in Toronto, when a little snack was served. I couldn't really understand why the crew decided to close all shades during a dayflight. I decided to walk around a little because I wanted to take a photo of the wing. The flight was fully booked so the only option was taking a photo out the window of one of the doors. Fortunately the windows in the doors of the Boeing 777 are almost the same size as the other windows.
View from door L3 onboard Air Canada Boeing 777-333(ER)
Air Canada's 777's are equipped with a rather high density seat layout. The 10-abrest makes for a very cramped seat with
very little space, especially for tall people. I found the pitch to be very meagre and being 190cm tall it made the 8-hour
flight a really uncomfortable experience.
Otherwise the cabin appears quite friendly and bright (at least when the shades weren't closed). The seats are well maintained and everything was clean when we boarded. I didn't watch any movies but the IFE was modern and had plenty of movies and shows to choose from. I found the map to be especially good when compared to other airlines.
View of the aft economy class cabin on Air Canada Boeing 777-333(ER)
With a delay of more than two hours we finally touched down in Toronto-Pearson. After a short wait due to our gate being blocked we could finally step foot on Canadian grounds. Happy that this rather bad flight was finally over and we had made it to Toronto we were excited to claim our luggage and check into our hotel. Our excitement perished when we had to wait over an hour until our bags finally showed up.
Toronto Pearson Airport
We stayed in the Holiday Inn near the airport for four nights. Right after checking into the hotel I decided to head
outside to catch some planes departing from runway 06L. I ended up planespotting from the sidewalk of Dixon Rd, right
in front of our hotel. Very surprisingly pedestrians were extremely interested in my hobby and about half the people
walking past stopped to ask questions about my camera or the departing aircraft, what a warm welcome to the country!
Among the many Air Canada and Westjet narrowbodies I caught some more interesting airplanes like an Air France A350, a Lufthansa 747-400 and an Air Transat A330.
Air France Airbus A350-941 taking off from Toronto-Pearson
Lufthansa Boeing 747-430 taking off from Toronto-Pearson
Air Transat Airbus A330-243 taking off from Toronto-Pearson
The next day I checked out the most popular place for planespotting in Toronto, the gas station at Airport Rd. This
spot is easy to reach by public transports with buses to the airport many times an hour. The runway end is only about
a hundred meters behind the perimeter fence which means approaching aircraft will pass very low above your head. This
makes for nice high quality photos.
I ticked the first classic off my Canada bucketlist, a FedEx MD-10. I had caught an MD-10 before, a few years ago in the United States but I was really unsatisfied with the image so I definitely had to take this unique chance to catch one of the last remaining MD-10's in the world. The weather was phenomenal and so was the traffic.
Westjet Boeing 737-8 MAX on final approach to runway 23
FedEx McDonnell Douglas MD-10-30F on final approach to runway 23
Air France Boeing 777-228(ER) on final approach to runway 23
FedEx McDonnell Douglas MD-11(F) on final approach to runway 23
British Airways Boeing 787-9 on final approach to runway 23
LOT Boeing 787-9 on final approach to runway 23
Air Canada Rouge Airbus A319 on final approach to runway 23
I recommend using either a very long lens or a wideangle lens for this spot. All shots above were taking with my
Canon 500mm f/4L. 500mm of focal length might appear way too much considering how close the aircraft are to yourself
but it allowed for some really great shots.
I also used a wideangle lens, in my case the Canon 24-70mm F/4L. The shot below is an example for what that looks like. This angle perfectly shows how low over ground the fightpath sits.
Flair Airlines Boeing 737-8 MAX on final approach to runway 23
Air Canada Boeing 777-333(ER) on final approach to runway 23
Two days ago just after we had checked in to our hotel I spotted the tail of an Antonov An-124 from the window of our
hotel room. I immediately got curious about this An-124 because it was operated by Russian cargo airline Volga-Dnepr.
Apperently this An-124 delivered some COVID rapid tests right when the war in Ukraine started. Due to sanctions the
aircraft cannot fly through Canadian airspace without violating NOTAM's. The Antonov was moved to this remote parking
shortly after and now sits there since February with parking fees way over 100'000 USD.
As an avgeek I couldn't pass on the opportunity to take some photos of an Antonov An-124. So on the third day in Toronto I decided to explore that area of the airport. I had no idea where to go to get a mostly unobstructed view of my subject. After careful planning on Google Earth and about an hour walk I managed to find the best place to take some photos.
Volga-Dnepr Antonov An-124 parked at Toronto-Pearson
Now a short resume of my planespotting experience in Toronto. Coming to Toronto I was not expecting much to be honest.
I was not especially happy with the spots the airport had to offer but after spending a few days planespotting at
Toronto-Pearson, I have to say that the airport offers qutie a lot. If you ever happen to be in Toronto, a trip
to the airport is definitely worth it.
I would recommend a car, especially for the spots south-west the airport. But if you limit yourself to the spots north the airport you won't need a car to go to all the spots.
After spending some days at Niagara Falls we headed up north. I didn't even plan on spotting at Kingston Airport but
my curiosity got the better of me. I was mainly interested in catching one of Air Creebec's Dash-8-100's, since those
were very rare in Europe. Kingston Airport isn't great for planespotting, there are hardly and spots to go and the
ones that do exist are barely any good.
The Dash-8's and other "bigger" aircraft usually land on the longer runway 01/19. Since there are hardly any movements it's almost impossible to know for certain what direction your desired aircraft will land. Winds were facing north that day so I decided to bet on runway 19 which turned out to be the right call. The rotary park north the airport is the best and only place to catch runway 19 landings, so that's where I went.
Air Creebec Bombardier Dash-8-106 on final approach to runway 19
I would generally not recommend going to Kingston Airport. It's most likely going to be a waste of time. The spots are terrible and there is almost no traffic. If you happen to spend a few days in the city just like I did, check out the arrival board and you might find a Dash-8-100 in the schedule. So if you really want to catch a Dash-8-100, Kingston might be your chance to do so.
Montreal Trudeau Airport
The next city for our trip was Montreal. Montreal has three major airports, Montreal Saint-Hubert Longueuil (CYHU),
Montreal-Mirabel (CYMX) and Montreal Trudeau (CYUL) with Montreal Trudeau being the biggest one.
We stayed in the Fairfield Inn only a few hundred meters south the airport. The hotel itself was good and being so close to the airport perfect for planespotters. Montreal was the airport I was most looking forward to spot at becuase of the daily 737-200 operations by Raglan and Air Inuit.
Right after checkig in to our hotel, we drove to the other side of the airport to catch some landings on runway 24R. The first spot we went to was final approach of runway 24R. There's a huge gravel area on the right side of Ch St-François, where you can park your car. I already caught some nice movements during the short time I spent at this place.
Canadian North Boeing 737-406(C) on final approach to runway 24R
Turkish Airlines Airbus A350-941 on final approach to runway 24R
Air France Boeing 777-328(ER) on final approach to runway 24R
Air Inuit Boeing 737-2Q2C(A) on final approach to runway 24R
Catching my first ever Boeing 737-200 was really awesome. Before going to Canada I had never thought I'd be able to see one in real life, especially because there are no airworthy 737-200's left in Europe. To celebrate this awesome catch we had pizza in a nearby restaurant. After the pizza we checked out another spot for runway 24R landings, further down Ch Saint-François. Something special about this spot is that there is no classic perimeter fence. Rather than a wire fence there are wooden planks. They are roughly 2 meters tall so you definitely need something to step on to reach over the planks. In my case I stood on the front tire of our rental car which worked out perfectly.
Spot at Ch Saint-François
This spot is almost impossible to reach by public transport. This is the case for almost all spots at Montreal-Trudeau.
You definitely need a car to properly spot here.
Ch Saint-François was one of my absolute favorite spots in Montreal. I'd recommend something like a 100-400mm lens for this spot, maybe a longer lens if you want to get some photos with Saint Joseph's Oratory in the background. I took some photos with the Oratory in the background the next day.
Air France Airbus A350-941 slowing down on runway 24R
The next day I wanted to catch one of the Raglan Boeing 737-200's. The challenge with catching the Raglan 737's is that they always land on 24L because their hangar is located to the left of runway 24L. 24L offers no spots to catch landings in the afternoon. The best option to me seemed a short gravel road next to the Bombardier factory. This spot is really far away from the runway so definitely bring a very long lens. My 500mm were barely enough to fill the frame. I was pretty happy with how the shots turned out considering the lack of any real spots.
Raglan Boeing 737-2R8C(A) on final approach to runway 24L
After successfully catching the Raglan 737 I decided to head back to Ch Saint-François to catch more landings on runway 24R. This day the atmosphere was much clearer and there was barely any heathaze despite the warm temparatures.
Air Inuit Boeing 737-2Q2C(A) slowing down on runway 24R
Delta Boeing 717-2BD slowing down on runway 24R
Finnair Airbus A350-941 slowing down on runway 24R
Another popular spot in Montreal is behind runway 06R/24L. 06R is not even 3000 meters long so heavy long haul flights use up most of the runway making for really good photos. It was only a five minute walk from my hotel and roughly 10 mintutes from the terminal. This spot is one of the few spots easy to reach without a car.¨
Air Canada Boeing 777-333(ER) taking off from runway 24L
Air Transat Airbus A330-243 taking off from runway 24L
The next morning I checked out another well known spot in Montreal, Jaques-de-Lesseps park at runway 06R/24L. This spot
is ideal for 24L takeoffs but also good for 06R takeoffs, which was the case that morning. There is no car park near this
spot but you can park your car on the side of the road.
My objective this morning was catching the landing of the second Raglan 737-200. Again Raglan was the only landing on 06R this morning again due to their hangar being located at this runway.
Raglan Boeing 737-2S2C(A) landing on runway 06R
After catching the second Raglan 737-200 I decided to head to the Air Inuit terminal to see if there are any 737's outside. Right when I arrived I saw one of their 737-200's taxiing to runway 24R. There unfortunately is no view onto the runway near the Air Inuit terminal so we raced down Rue Hervé-Saint-Martin. As soon as the runway became visible we stopped the car and I jumped out. Only a second later the Air Inuit 737-200 appeared behind the big dirt hill.
Air Inuit Boeing 737-275C(A) taking off on runway 24R
Back at the Air Inuit terminal I saw one of their Boeing 737-200's during fueling for a flight later this day along one of their De Havilland Canada Dash-8-300's.
Air Inuit Boeing 737-2Q2C(A) during fueling
Air Inuit De Havilland Canada DHC-8-314Q waiting for the next flight
The second biggest airport in Montreal is Montreal-Mirabel. It mainly hosts cargo airlines and famous Nolinor. To Boeing 747
enthusiasts like myself this airport definitely rings a bell since Mirabel is the base of both 747SP's operated by Pratt&Whitney
Canada. Unfortunately during my time in Canada both 747SP's were not flying. Despite both SP's not flying I still decided to head
out to Mirabel and try my luck.
When the SP's are not flying they're either inside the hangar or parked right outside. We parked our car outside the Pratt&Whitney building where the hangars are located. It was a sunday morning which is probably why we weren't sent away immediately.
Pratt&Whitney building at Montreal-Mirabel Airport
Unfortunately both SP's weren't parked outside the hangar but inside the hangar. I could spot the tail of one of the 747's through
a window in the hangar. Unfortunately these windows were too high up to reach so I looked for other options. On the right hand side
of the hangar there was an access door with a tiny tinted window. Getting a shot through the window was incredibly hard due to the
dark tint which enhanced the reflections even more. I had my dad cover the window with his jacket to kill the reflections which worked
out just fine. In the end I did manage to get some shots although not perfect ones.
I strongly advise you not to do what I did. I came back a second time about a week later to see if anything had changed only to get sent away immediately by security. At least I was gifted with an Antonov An-12 departing just when I arrived.
A Cavok Air Antonov An-12BK leaving behind a thick trail of smoke on departure from Montreal-Mirabel
Pratt&Whitney Boeing 747SP-B5 in a hangar at Montreal-Mirabel Airport
Considering the circumstances I am not too disappointed with the outcome, at least I managed to get a good close up view on a 747SP, my favorite aircraft out there. This also meant that I somewhat completed my mission in Canada to catch one of the 747SP.
Quebec City Airport
The next airport on the list was Quebec City Airport. Quebec was the most beautiful city I visited in Canada, I definitely recommend going there. I knew the airport probably wouldn't have much to offer but I learnt from the past that exploring new airports is never a wast of time and you'll always find something interesting. It was no different this time. After catching the only intercontinental route to Paris operated by Air France and an American Eagle Embraer 145 I spotted some parked Canadair firefighting aircraft on the ramp.
Air France Airbus A330-202 landing at Quebec City Airport
American Eagle Embraer ERJ-145 landing at Quebec City Airport
Canadair CL-215 parked at Quebec City Airport
Quebec City is a neat little airport but not really worth checking out. It was really cool seeing the firefighting aircraft and exploring the airport.
Flying on a DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver seaplane
On our way to Shawinigan we passed by this little seaplane base at Lac-à-la-Tortue. There was a Cessna 206 taking off when we arrived
a DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver preparing to depart with some passengers. We asked if there were any free spots. With some luck they had 2 seats
to offer, so we hopped on the opportunity to fly a seaplane and also a Beaver, something super rare in Europe. C-GDXY, our aircraft was built
in 1957 which makes it the oldest plane I've ever been on with 65 years at the time.
Takeoff was a lot smoother than I had expected it to be. We climbed out from the lake with the deafening noise of the 9-cylinder radial engine. The flight was really smooth and it was interesting to observe the pilot controlling this ancient bird. After about 25 minutes of sightseeing we touched down where our flight had started. The touchdown was really smooth, a great ending to my first flight on a seaplane.
A Cessna U206F Stationair at Lac-à-la-Tortue
C-GDXY, our DHC-2 Beaver
This is what a 65-year old cockpit looks like
Wingview over Parc National de la Mauricie
Our Aircraft back in Lac-à-la-Tortue
Ottawa MacDonald Cartier Airport
As for being Canada's capital city, Ottawa Airport is not particularly large, mainly due to its proximity to Montreal. As of summer
2022 there are no intercontinental flights from or to Ottawa and mostly domestic flights operated by Porter Airlines or Air Canada
and flights to the United States. Also there are cargo flights with Fedex and Cargojet Airways which might be interesting since
they're operated by Airbus A300's and Boeing 767's respectively.
For me the airport had a lot to offer. There's a really nice spot at Alert Rd for landings on ruwnay 25 I spent basically the entirety of my morning at.
A Cargojet Boeing 767-375(ER)BDSF on short final to runway 32
A Canadian North Boeing 737-406(C) runway 25
A Royal Canadian Air Force Bombardier CC-144 taking off from runway 25
A Porter Airlines Bombardier DHC-8-402Q landing on runway 25
A Fedex Airbus A300F4-605R freighter landing on runway 25 after a very short flight from Montreal-Mirabel
Flying on Swiss
We were supposed to fly back to Zürich via Frankfurt, identical to the way we had arrived three weeks prior. A day before our flight back
we were informed that our flights had been rebooked due to a cancellation of the Frankfurt-Zürich flight. Our new flights were Toronto-Chicago
with Air Canada and Chicago-Zürich with Swiss. The joy was huge, to one part because the Air Canada long haul experience was really underwhelming
and to another part because the Chicago-Zürich flight would be operated by an A340-300.
The next day we drove to Toronto-Pearson and returned our rental. We dropped our bags and since we were already checked in we proceeded to security. To our surprise we discovered that we could already do immigration to the US before departure which would save us a lot of time in Chicago, especially since we only had about a 90 minute layover. Immigration was done within 10 minutes, though they took a very close look at my camera gear, especially my big lens.
We boarded C-FMSX, a 1992 Airbus A320. It seemed like the interior hadn't been updated ever since it was delivered to Air Canada in February of 1993. Business class looked very comfortable but unfortunately that was not where I would be sitting. Fortunately I was assined a window seat. We took off with minimal delay and headed towards Chicago, flying over some of the great lakes. Weather was really nice an the air was very calm. We touched down on runway 27R and taxied towards our gate at the domestic terminal 2.
Our aircraft, C-FMSX, a 1992 Airbus A320
Business class cabin
The IFE screen in economy class onboard C-FMSX
Flying over Lake Michigan. Notice how stained the wing is
Overflying Interstate-90 on final approach to runway 27R
Terminal 1 at Chicago O'Hare is obviously home to United Airlines
We immediately took the airtrain to terminal 5, checking in for our connecting flight to Zürich. Check-in and security went smoothly and soon we arrived
at our departure gate and waited for boarding. After a short wait I boarded my first A340 flight, a thing I had been eager to do for a long time.
The crew welcomed us very warmly in Swiss German and I already felt at home. I again had the great luck of having a window seat, though quite far back.
We pushed back only 6 minutes behind schedule and after a short taxi we lifed off runway 28R. We banked right shortly after liftoff and sitting on the
right side of the aircraft I had a perfect panoramic view over the ginormous Chicago O'Hare Airport and Chicago downtown in the distance.
Meal service started as soon as we had reached cruising altitude. I was surprised to see real cutlery on the tray, definitely a huge upgrade to Air Canada. Airplane food simply tastes better with real cutlery. The meal was a lot better than it looked, one of the best I've had on an airplane. The crew took great care of us and we all felt really comfortable. After dinner I watched a beautiful sunset and decided to try to get some sleep. The seats were comfortable and I could even strech my legs. The seat pitch is technically the same to the Air Canada 777 but Swiss has different seats that apperently offer more space for your legs.
After failing to fall asleep I scrolled through the IFE. The screen is very large and super responsive. There's a large selection of movies and the map function is really sophisticated and user friendly. I opened the shades a few times during the night and was presented with a beautiful sky full of stars. The sun rose somewhere over the atlantic ocean and about 2 hours before landing we were served breakfast. Breakfast was definitely not as good as dinner but still okay. I enjoyed the last hours of the flight mainly by looking out of the window. We touched down on homeland about half an hour before schedule. Bags arrived quickly and our trip was now over.
Our A340 before boarding
View on Chicago O'Hare after takeoff
Breaking through a layer of clouds. Notice our shadow with a halo effect
Sunset over the east coast of the United States
Dinner on board LX9 from Chicago O'Hare to Zürich
Swiss' very bright cabin
Boston from above at night
A sky full of stars
Sunrise somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean
Seconds before touching down on runway 14 at my homebase
No gate for us! I didn't mind taking a few more glimpses at our A340...