East Midlands Airport (EMA) is centrally located between the East Midlands cities of Derby, Leicester and Nottingham and has flights to over 70 destinations operated by eight airlines that carry almost five million passengers per year. Although in terms of passenger aircraft movements, EMA is nothing special, the airport is a hub for both DHL and the Royal Mail meaning it is an excellent airport for spotting freight movements.
The airport’s central location and its connections to the M1 and A42 means a large proportion of the UK can be reached within a few hours. Due to this the airport has grown to become the UK’s largest airport for dedicated freight movements and sits only behind Heathrow for total cargo moved (most of LHR’s is in the ‘bellies’ of passenger aircraft). In addition to the hubs of DHL and Royal Mail, UPS is soon to open a larger hub at the airport and in total 8 airlines operate scheduled cargo flights to the airport. Due to its specialism in cargo handling, EMA also frequently handles cargo charter flights in addition to the scheduled movements and in total handles over 300,000 tonnes of cargo each year.
Due to the nature of operations at EMA, there can be large gaps between aircraft movements during the day, with a large ‘first wave’ of aircraft departing between 0600 and 0800 each morning. The ‘second wave’ is a bit more spread out between 1145 and 1530 with around 20 aircraft arriving and departing before the airport then, only averaging a couple of flights per hour until 1900 when the cargo operation ramps up. Generally, if spotting at EMA, it’s best to aim for one of the two ‘waves’ of flights or wait until 1800ish in the summer to catch the evening passenger arrivals and the start of the cargo operation.
Unfortunately, as with many UK airports, there is no official dedicated spotting area at EMA (except the Aeropark which has rather sporadic and limited opening hours), leaving spotters to find alternative areas which over the years have become semi-official. One of these areas is the crash gate at the top of Diseworth Road in Castle Donington which is on the opposite side of the runway from the terminal building and provides a view of both the central passenger apron and western DHL cargo apron.
As with most unofficial sites around the country, there are no facilities provided at Diseworth Road and the area is literally a wide, poorly maintained road leading to one of the airport crash gates. The road is wide enough to allow cars to park either side whilst still maintaining space for emergency access, however PLEASE PARK SENSIBLY! At the bottom of the road, adjacent to the junction with Hill Top road is The Nag’s Head Bar & Bistro which serves food and in Castle Donington itself is a Co-Op supermarket and other smaller shops. Slightly further afield, there are Donington services located the other side of the airfield at junction 23A of the M1 which contain various restaurants including a Harvester.
In terms of Cargo, the majority of flights are operated by DHL with their Airbus A300s, Boeing 757s and 767s, with UPS & Star Air also utilising 767s on their flights. FedEx generally operate a 757 whilst ASL Airlines and West Atlantic use different variants of Boeing 737 freights for most of their flights with the latter also using British Aerospace ATPs for some routes. Due to the large number of cargo charter flights that use the EMA, an Antonov An-124 Ruslan can often be found at the airport and in the days following a Formula 1 race a number of Boeing 747s visit bringing back the cars and large amounts of equipment.
Unfortunately, the bulk of passenger services from the airport are operated by the big four of Jet2, Ryanair, Thomas Cook and TUI meaning most flights utilise Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 family aircraft. There is some variety provided by TUI’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Dash 8s of Flybe, Aurigny’s ATR 72 and until recently the ERJs of BMI Regional. Although BMI Regional have recently ceased operations, Scotland’s Loganair has taken over most of the flights and from September 2019 EMA is likely to have ERJ services again. BH Air of Bulgaria also operate into the airport with an A320 and occasionally one of the big four lease aircraft from other airlines to operate on their behalf. On my visit an A320 of Freebird Airlines arrived from Dalaman operating a flight on behalf of TUI (I believe).
In conclusion, spotting at East Midlands can either be great or disappointing depending on the timing of your visit and an element of luck. I managed to time my visit just right and was able to see an Antonov on the ground as well as a number of other movements. Unfortunately, if I’d arrived a couple of hours earlier, I’d have probably left frustrated having only seen a couple of movements. Diseworth Road is a good spot for viewing the aircraft and collecting registrations, however photography is hampered by the airport security fencing. Generally, I’d say the airport isn’t worth a special trip if you’re not in the East Midlands although it’s always worth stopping in if you’re passing to see what’s about.
Viewing location 3* Charge (free) 5* Facilities 0* Variety of Traffic 3* EMA (Diesworth Rd) Overall Score 2.5*