Madrid Barajas Airport The airport Madrid Barajas is not only the airport of the Spanish capital Madrid, but as well the Hub for connections from Europe to Central and South America. The airport is located to the north east of downtown Madrid.
History The airport, although today the most important, is the youngest of the four airports in Madrid. The others are Torrejon, Cuatro Vientos and Getafe. Torrejon in the west of the city is today mainly a military airfield and home to a wing of F/A-18 and the governmental fleet. Circling aircraft for Torrejon can sometimes be seen from Barajas. Cuatro Vientos in the south of Madrid is as well used by the military but mainly by helicopters and otherwise for flying schools and aero clubs. Getafe is as well in the south and in use by the military (transport aircraft) and Airbus (production of C295 and Typhoons as well as maintenance).
Madrid Barajas was opened in April 1931 using initially a grass square as takeoff area. In 1944 the first paved runway was opened, later-on extended with a second one. These two runways crossed each other and had the orientation 14/32 and 18/36 – which was linked to the dominating wind directions.
Crossing runways make dual runway operations complex and dangerous – which can be confirmed as well by an accident in 1983 where an Iberia B727 crashed with a DC-9 of Aviaco claiming 93 people killed. As a consequence, it was decided to close the existing 18/36 runway and replace it with another runway further north with the same orientation, thereby omitting the crossing runways. In 2006 two additional runways were opened, set-up in parallel to the two existing ones but with sufficient distance to the existing runways enabling parallel operation. Thus Madrid today owns four runways, a parallel pair in the north (18/36) and another one in the south (14/32). Each pair is either used for take-off or landing, thus allowing Madrid a significant growth potential. If needed the air traffic control switches the direction from landing on 32 and take-off on 36 to landing on 18 and take-off on 14 – other oriented operation does not exist. In addition to the runways as well all taxiways are duplicated – thus if a change of runway direction is done not only the landing aircraft adapt but as well all taxiing aircraft switch taxiways – a coordinated ballet of planes impressive to watch.
The first Terminal was originally created at the crossing section of the former runways – this is today in the middle of the western runway 14/32. This building was later-on extended twice with the Terminal 2 and 3. Due to its location Madrid is known for extensive taxiing – if you land on runway 32R and have to go to Terminal 1/2/3 you have to taxi approximately 5-6 kilometres to reach the terminals. If you land on 18L it is even longer …
As the space in these three terminals was not deemed sufficient a new Terminal 4 with a separate satellite was opened in 2006. The Terminal 4 is located between runways 14/32 and 18/36 to the west, the satellite is located in the middle between the four runways. Terminal 4 is used by Iberia and its partner airlines of the airline alliance One World. They split their operations between Schengen related traffic being managed in Terminal 4 and all non-Schengen traffic in the Satellite. All other airlines use the Terminals 1, 2 and 3, so airlines linked to the other alliances Star Alliance and Sky Team but as well low cost airlines.
In terms of airlines the most dominant is of course the Spanish flag carrier Iberia, which is today part of the IAG (International Airline Group, consisting of British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus as well as their subsidiaries). Vueling is as well present, but not dominant – its focus is more on Barcelona. Due to the importance of Madrid as hub to Central and South America BA operates daily flights from London as well with heavy aircraft like B763, B789 and B772/3. The other very present Spanish carrier, operating out of Terminal 1/2/3, is of course Air Europa, running many routes to Europe and within Spain but as well to Central and South America. These long-haul routes are as well the area of activity for the charter airlines Wamos and Evelop, who operate either Jumbos (a more and more rare species in pax operations) or nicely coloured A330s.
The most important specify of Madrid is of course the presence of several Central and South American airlines, which makes the airport important even more interesting for spotters. LATAM (Chile, Brasil), Boliviana de Aviacion (Bolivia), Aeromexico (Mexico), Avianca (Colombia), Aerolinas Argentinas (Argentina) and as well airlines like Cubana (Cuba) operate their flights. As most of these routes arrive and leave during daylight Madrid offers for several of these airlines the best opportunity for photos.
Besides these specific Central and South American operators some other airlines can be as well interesting. Specific emphasis should be given to Ceiba Intercontinental from Equatorial Guinea, operating with either B772 or B738 aircraft. Besides airlines like Emirates with A380, Qatar with B788 or Etihad with B789 or Korean with the same aircraft manage daily or even more frequent routes to Madrid.
In terms of European airlines as well all the other classical operators are there. Lufthansa, Swiss, Brussels, Air France, TAP, Aeroflot etc. operate flights from their Hubs to Madrid. Lowcost airlines like Ryanair and Norwegian operate as well and have aircrafts stationed here running routes to Europe but as well within Spain – mainly to the Canary Islands
Madrid for Spotters
For spotters Madrid offers lots of opportunities, but a car is highly recommended. Not all runways can be accessed from all sides, thereby limiting the possibilities depending on the wind during some hours of the day. Approach, landing, take-off and taxi shots are possible – but as with many other airports the area around the airport is changing rather quickly and the one or other fantastic spot is now not anymore accessible due to construction of roads and buildings. For several locations a lot of lens-millimetres are required – at some spots a APS-C body and a zoom going up to 600mm can be useful. At other locations you are fine with a 70-300mm. For actual spotting locations we recommend to check one of the currently updated spotter guides on the web.
Please find below a selection of photos from various spots around the airport – showing as well the variety of airlines and colours.
Florian Szczepanek, March 2018