Since the title of this blog is "Observation Deck", it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that we're always on the lookout for developments concerning these entities. And while most of the news in the past few decades has been negative, with excellent facilities including those at New York's LaGuardia Airport, and the Queens Building facility at London's Heathrow being lost to those that wished to view airline operations, this month there are two positive developments to report.
First, let's take a look at one that has returned, if not from the dead, at least from a period of suspended animation. BWI (Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport) installed a nice Observation Gallery in the public (pre-security) area of the terminal back in 1995. It featured portions of a 737-200, including the cockpit, as well as a number of museum-quality displays about the airline industry and its connection with the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. At one point, there was a modest retail store, with small aircraft display models, books and other commercial aviation material for sale.
The new version offers a 'refreshed' display area, although the emphasis seems to have shifted somewhat from the airline industry to aerospace, and the local area's participation in the latter. Still, however, it's a comfortable place to watch activity on the ramp between the B and C concourses, and modern life is catered to with the provision of charging stations for electronic devices; rocking chairs are provided for relaxing while viewing the operations. A nice addition, from a catering standpoint, is the Sky Azurefood ('small plates' on offer) and beverage facility. All in all, a nice place to relax at the airport, and, if you're of our persuasion, in terms of interest in the industry, perhaps even a reason to make a trip to the facility.
BWI does continue to also have an outdoor observation area located on Dorsey Road, on the southern perimeter of the field. When landings are on runway 33L (which is more often than not), visitors can observe, and photograph, inbound aircraft as they come over the runway threshold; takeoffs in the reverse direction, runway 15R, typically are higher in the air by the time they pass over Dorsey Road. On afternoons (best for photography at this location) with nice weather, particularly weekends, the spot is quite popular, and parking can be at somewhat of a premium on some days.
Considerably to the east and north of BWI, Helsinki's Vantaa Airport has just opened a viewing terrace for the public, on the roof of an office building located next to the airport's Terminal 2, featuring a "great view" of the two main runways. Open from 7 AM to 10 PM daily, the area also offers views of the ramp. In a high-tech touch, the airport's website offers a 360 degree panoramic picture of the terrace; they also advise those traveling that photography of aircraft from the terminal is allowed, and no permit is required. A link is also provided to the Finnish Aviation Photography Association's map showing the best vantage points around the airport for photography.
Vantaa's March 2012 announcement of the new facility helps to put observation decks/areas in perspective: "In the early years, the local residents would ride their bicycles to the airport and watch the planes all the way to the parking spots, as there were no safety fences at the time. However, stricter international safety regulations and massive construction have decreased the viewing opportunities since the mid-1970s."
In contrast, the Airport Director's announcement about the forthcoming new terrace indicates that at least some in the global airline business recognize that good public relations include making provision for the public: "We at Finavia are very happy that we finally found a new, suitable place for the viewing terrace at Helsinki Airport. It has turned out to be an important service for all aviation enthusiasts, travellers and families who can once again marvel at aeroplanes."
Wonder and marvel should go hand-in-hand with this exciting industry; let's hope that other locations are able to follow BWI and Helsinki's lead.