DALLAS — The Airways team went to Brussels in mid-June for a plane-spotting trip during the NATO Summit 2023. Our goal was the Boeing E-4B (747-200), but we found some interesting catches, such as the Belgian Icon’s special liveries from Brussels Airlines (SN).
On June 15, 2023, we flew to Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL) from Budapest (BUD) onboard Wizz Air’s (W6) Airbus A321ceo aircraft, registered as HA-LXH. It was my first time onboard an A321ceo, and my first impression is that the legroom was acceptable; it was not as large as in the A321neo, but it was comfortable for 2-3 hours. My seat was 7A.
After landing at CRL, our aircraft taxied to Terminal 2, one of the smallest terminal buildings I’ve ever visited. We only had a two-minute walk from the aircraft to the arrivals level, where we picked up our car from a large and popular car rental company.
We had some issues with the rental, so if you plan to rent a car, make sure to have an embossed debit or credit card with the driver’s name. After waiting an hour and picking up the car, we stopped at the parking lot for a special TUI (BY) Boeing 737-800 departure from CRL.
First Day at Brussels
On the first day, we didn’t plan spotting; we went sightseeing around the city instead. However, after checking in at our hotel, Ibis Brussels Airport (BRU), and a quick look at Flightradar24, our plans changed. Soon enough, we were on our way to Spotterguide‘s Spot 21, the Zaventem Cemetery.
You have to walk towards the airport fence to find two options. The first one takes you to a bike lane where you get fence-obstructed side shots; the second and better option is to go to the top of a small hill on your left. This spot can be used for runway 01 arrivals in the afternoon. Departures are possible but only with a ladder.
Our first plane was OO-SNF with its SN Tomorrowland livery. Unfortunately, it came without lights, so I’m not sharing that photo just yet. After the standard SN planes, a DHL (D0) Boeing 777F arrived.
Shortly after the D0, we were able to catch some Belgian Icons liveries of SN, including their newest “Belgian Red Devils and Red Flames” livery, featured on OO-SNO, named Trident.
For the non-football addicts, the aircraft features the Belgian national men’s football team, the Belgian Red Devils, and the Belgian national women’s team, the Belgian Red Flames. This specific ex-Pegasus airframe was delivered to Brussels Airlines in September 2022 and got its final paint in December 2022. This shot is one of my favorites from the whole trip.
It was great to see how different the sunset time is between Hungary and Belgium, so we had the opportunity to catch some amazing aircraft in the evening, just as SN’s ‘Belgian Icons – The Smurfs livery’, some new airlines in my collection, just like Royal Air Maroc (AT), Air Arabia (G9), and Croatia Airlines (OU).
To end the day, we got some cargo planes arriving and departing, but due to the fence issue I talked about above, we were unable to catch takeoffs, just landings. The first one was an ASL Airlines Belgium (3V) Boeing 737-400, and then a CargoAir (operating for European Air Transport – QY) 737-400 came.
Before the ASL, an Italian Coast Guard Piaggio P180 Avanti, which was also a rare plane – even in Brussels, according to the local community.
Day one was amazing. Even if we include the issues with car rental and location for departures, we got some amazing photos, and most importantly, we met some kind Belgian people, who helped us with great tips for spotting points and the next day’s traffic.
We were also lucky with the weather, as all sources indicated rain and full cloud cover—the exact opposite happened.
Day Two – The Main Highlights
On the second day, we woke up at 5 a.m. to catch the morning transatlantic flights with aircraft such as United Airlines (UA) Boeing 777-300ERs, Delta Air Lines (DL) Boeing 767-300ER, and some SN widebodies coming from the United States and Africa.
We used Spotterguide’s Spot 10, Cemetery Steenokkerzeel, for runway 25R arrivals. This spot is great, you have a clear view of the approach path, however, the airport isn’t visible, it is obstructed by a high hill and concrete fence.
If you need a little rest, there is a park next to this spot with a small lake, there are some fish, water plants, wooden animal replicas, and frogs around the lake as well. We recommend a maximum of 100mm lens (or 150mm on full-frame bodies) for heavies and 200mm for narrow bodies.
Although it’s not stated, it is not recommended to go inside the cemetery with cameras, respect the area. However, the gate is always open, and possible to get proper side shots. There’s a bakery and some shops on the main road, where you can buy food and drinks. The prices are significantly lower than the supermarkets in Diegem.
Between the heavies, we got some other traffic as well – mostly Brussels Airlines aircraft, including their special liveries too. On the first day, we weren’t able to catch all of them, as we had around five hours of daylight remaining, so it was indeed a great opportunity to have another day for the rest.
Only a few airlines operate transatlantic flights with Airbus A321LR narrowbodies. For example, JetBlue (B6) is flying from New York (JFK) to London Heathrow (LHR). However, to Brussels, only Air Transat (TS) flies with these airframes from Montreal (YUL) three times a week.
After TS, we saw some European carriers, including Austrian Airlines (OS), Air Baltic (BT), Swiss (LX), and Croatia Airlines (OU). Then, DL arrived from JFK with a Boeing 767-300ER.
The next Canadian carrier was Air Canada (AC) arriving from YUL with its Boeing 777-300ER in new livery. Personally, I prefer the old livery, but after seeing it in real life, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. The raccoon mask looks good around the cockpit windows too.
Fortunately enough, Finnair (AY) is sending Airbus A350-900s to various European short-haul routes for pilot training purposes, including LHR and BRU.
First Spot Change
After we caught all the special planes we wanted to capture, we decided to explore the area, so we went to Spotterguide’s Spot 18, called “Official Spotting Platform, Vliegbos.”
We met some amazing locals, and it’s also good if you plan to visit this spot with children, as there is a small BRU replica playground next to the platform. The replica features all the runways and an air traffic control tower.
This spot is good for runway 01 arrivals, 19 departures, and 07R/25L movements. But when we have been there, 07R/25L was closed due to maintenance, we only caught departures from runway 19.
Furthermore, the apron is visible, and you can see some heavies, and BY’s hangars too, but during summer, even on the fastest shutter speed (1/8000 seconds for me), the registration of an Airbus A330 was barely visible.
It is important to keep in mind that this runway is rarely used when compared to 25R, as only narrowbody airliners and business jets use it if their destination is in the southern or eastern direction from Belgium.
The rest of BRU’s traffic used runway 25R for arrivals and departures too. But actual runway usage can be found on the Brussels ATC website. Or if you have access to CTOT or AeroBrief, it’s easy to check what runway is being used according to the standard instrument departure (SID) the aircraft will fly.
Second Spot Change – P1 Parking
Since we had only a few aircraft departing from runway 19, we decided to switch spots and check out P1 parking. However, prices are a bit expensive, so keep in mind that a couple of hours of spotting can cost up to 25 euros.
The downside during the summer season is the heat haze, as the runway is quite far, but the general aviation ramp can be observed from here, with arrivals and departures from runway 25R.
To be honest, I was not impressed with this spot along with my friends, as our goal was to catch the Boeing E-4B, but due to heat haze, even at the closest possible distance, we had absolutely zero details. Only the photos without light were good for anything.
Bottom line: we do not recommend this place. Instead, check the surrounding area to get sky shots instead of ground ones.
The only acceptable E-4B image is this one without lights.
Here’s a bonus image, taken from our Ibis hotel’s parking lot in Diegem:
Day Three – Charleroi Airport
On the third and final day of our planespotting journey in Brussels, we woke up at 5:30 to have enough time to get ready but as our flight back to Budapest departed at 9:00, we had to say goodbye to Brussels and BRU—it was time to go back to CRL.
The downside there is that there aren’t any observing decks or smoking rooms inside the building and restrooms are small. But at least, it’s easy to take pictures through the terminal as its wall facing the apron is glass and you will get no reflections at any angle, which is a huge plus – at least for me.
There is only one duty-free shop with relatively low prices compared to the supermarkets in the capital city, and a bar with food and drinks. You can also find a selling machine, where you can buy charging cables, headphones, and travel accessories if you forgot anything at home.
And finally, the highlight of Charleroi…
Featured image: Brussels Airlines (Belgian Red Devils and Red Flames livery) Airbus A320-214 OO-SNO on final for EBBR/BRU RW01. Photo: Dominik Csordás/Airways