On December 2, 2014, I had the great pleasure of spending a bright and sunny morning enjoying the Itami airport open air observation deck. This is truly one of the world’s best airport observation decks. But you can actually say this about many airports in Japan.
For the visiting tourist, Osaka Itami airport is accessed via the monorail, which links up to the city’s metro system for a fast and enjoyable ride from the city centre. The ride on the monorail is a highlight in its own right as you can enjoy elevated views of the city of Osaka that are quite unique. Riding the monorail you really get the impression that Osaka is the ideal city of the twenty first century. Efficient, clean, well laid out, with convenient transport links that other cities can only be envious of. (Continued below)
For the aircraft spotter Itami airport is nothing short of a dream come true. Japan is probably the most civilized country on the planet, and this fact is more than obvious when you spend time on the observation deck. The Japanese know how to live. If it is raining, there is cover to stay dry. If you want to relax, there are plenty of park benches and other places to sit and savour the time on the deck. Lovely Japanese gardens add a sense of serenity and calm to the space, which is vast.
The observation deck encompasses the entire roof of the terminal building, both north and south wings. So you can actually walk from one end of the airport to the other opposite end, all on the roof, taking in the fabulous views every inch of the way. Back in the 1970s even the fingers were open air observation decks and to this day the hand rails are still in place on the finger roofs, as a reminder of those days when YS-11s mixed company with 727s, 737s and DC-8s and DC-9s. (Continued below)
The runway is a north-south affair and the airport is laid out in the same fashion. Therefore, the light from the observation deck is best during morning until mid day, when the sun swings around and then starts to favour views from the west looking east. There is a public buss service from the terminal building that can be used to access the many spotting locations on the west side of the runway, and the information desks within the Terminal building will provide bus information to any spotter who asks.
During the morning of my visit ANA seemed to be the dominant carrier with JAL in second place. The southern most gates are ANA gates, with JAL taking the centre gates and the commuter aircraft gravitating towards to the most northerly gates. So be prepared to do a lot of walking! This is an extremely busy airport with action never seeming to let up. Thus, it is not possible to be in all places at the same time to catch everything (take-offs, taxi, aircraft pushing back, starting engines etc).
My advice is to plan an arrival as early as possible, and plan to stay until 12 noon or 1 pm for an optimal visit. I believe the deck opens daily at 8 am, admission is free, but these details should be checked on the airport’s website for the latest information.