Back in February 2012, I travelled to Amsterdam with a view to shooting some of KLM’s heavier aircraft, particularly the company’s passenger MD-11s. My companions on that occasion were John and Marcus Jellyman, and conditions were truly abysmal, with extremely poor visibility over the two days that we were there.
Fast forward 13 months, and since that trip, KLM has withdrawn four of the ten aircraft in its active MD-11 fleet. Time is very definitely ticking for this type in passenger service, so, with a largely clear diary, reasonable fares for Easter week and a decent forecast for at least one day, Michael Hind, my son, Sammy, and I headed off to Schiphol for a couple of days.
We were on the first of several easyJet flights between Luton and Amsterdam on Wednesday, 3 April, with a departure time of 0600, which made us the very first aircraft to leave that day. Brilliantly, and as it turned out entirely needlessly, easyJet texted us the day before to say that due to heavier than expected traffic through Luton that morning, we needed to check in at 0330; that meant leaving home at 0230, which in turn meant getting up at 0145! And I thought it was bad when we went to Toulouse…!
The journey to the airport, parking, bag drop, security, boarding, the flight, clearing passport control and reclaiming our luggage all went without hitch, and we arrived at the bus stop outside the terminal where we were to get on a bus that would take us to collect our hire car with ease. We waited and waited under clearing skies but the bus did not come. I tried to call Thrifty, the hire car company, but only got a tone that in the UK we would associate with having dialled the wrong number. As I was on the phone to the UK to the price comparison site through which is was booked, the bus turned up, and we were soon being whisked away through the maze of roads that encircles Schiphol Airport.
As it transpired, Thrifty was located on the site of a BP petrol station and was very close to a number of the spots we thought we would be using over the course of the next two days. VW Polo signed for and checked over, we stocked up on supplies before setting off on a tour of the perimeter.
Back on my first visit, conditions had been so bad that we’d never actually left the sanctity of the airport terminal building, since Schiphol has what it calls the ‘Panorama Terrace’ located on the roof of Terminal 2, which provides excellent views of the piers across a fair section of the airport.
So, this was my first taste of Schiphol ‘proper’. Armed with the excellent Scramble viewing guide, we first headed to Spot 13, which should have provided some interesting angles on aircraft taxying across from the terminals to Runway 36L, which was the main departure runway that morning. Suffice it to say, Schiphol’s layout is the perfect case in point of where a picture paints a thousand words, so rather than trying to explain it to you, I’ll just suggest you look at the Scramble map!
Having already concluded from Google Street View that this was a location at which we’d need steps (and given that we didn’t have any), it came as a pleasant find to discover that a decent sized hole already existed in the fence. While I’m not condoning vandalism, I was aware that this could prove useful later on – I just didn’t appreciate how much!
We carried on past Spot 13 and over to Spot 16, which has become the only official area you can park for movements on Runway 36L. The runway is very close to the car park and 120mm on a 1.6x crop body was only just big enough to fit an A319-sized aircraft into the frame. The location even has toilets and a much lower fence than the one at Spot 13. The one thing the two places had in common was that they were both afternoon locations.
Everything was looking good for later in the day, but we needed somewhere to go for the remainder of the morning. The main landing runway was 06 – indeed, that was the one we’d landed on ourselves. Occasional traffic landed on Runway 36R too. That meant Spot 4 was the place to be, particularly so since we knew a Saudi Cargo MD-11F was due in! Hind was already feeling the effects of the early start and, rather than join Sammy and I on the five minute walk from where we could leave the car, elected instead to stay in and sleep!
It immediately became clear that the strong north-easterly wind was extremely cold. The air temperature was +3C but I dread to think what it was with the wind taken into account; it certainly wasn’t positive though!
A text from Marcus indicated that the Saudi was running late, but we would get one bonus in the shape of PR-GGW, a GOL 737-800 arriving from Brazil in full colours. It seems this aircraft has been leased to Dutch airline Transavia in the past and it was most likely returning for another period of lease. Other highlights included a Martinair MD-11F and an Air Arabia A320.
Starting to get a little peckish, we navigated our way to McDonalds before returning to Spot 4 for another hour or so. It would probably be fair to describe traffic as being a little mundane – consisting almost entirely of KLM’s lighter types: Fokker F70s, Embraer ERJs and Boeing 737s.
Whilst there, it dawned on us that almost everything was departing from Runway 36C, with the balance leaving from Runway 09! For whatever reason, Runway 36L was closed. This was bad news. Runway 36C runs parallel to Spot 13 and is the one and only location that works for this. With three KLM MD-11s due out between 1405 and 1530, we had to head there and hope for the best. After watching a KLM 747-400 depart from the warmth of the car, we felt confident that the hole in the fence would work. There were a number of obstructions including a further fence inside the airport, but this stopped just to our right. It did limit our shooting to about the 10 o’clock position through to 12 o’clock for anything that wasn’t airborne by the time it got to us.
We got lucky with two of the three KLM MD-11s (the third went from 09) and also got extremely lucky with the Saudi MD-11F (which had annoyingly landed at some point between its original planned time and its later estimated one). The last named was arguably the overall highlight of the trip.
As the afternoon went on, the light just kept getting better and better, and it was nice to finally capture some of the KLM heavy fleet in sunshine! These are types that simply don’t frequent the UK, so if you want shots of them in your collection, you really do need to go to them!
After a run of five KLM 747-400s in the space of about six movements, I decided I could take the cold no more (Sammy and Hind had both been safely ensconced in the car for quite some time!) and we headed off to the hotel.
We stayed in the rebranded Ibis Economy, which is the old Etap that the Jellymans and I had stayed in in 2012. To say it’s basic would be an understatement, and it’s quite poor value for what you get, but it was the cheapest on offer and we wouldn’t be in it for long, so it didn’t matter too much. Next door is the proper Ibis which has a couple of nice restaurants and a bar, albeit rather pricey (€6.10 for a pint of Heineken).
It had been an OK first day. What would Thursday have to offer?