Corfu Kerkyra LGKR
Slovak Airlines Tupolev Tu-154B landing runway 35 - shot from the Royal Cafe deck on my first visit to Corfu
Nikon 35mm SLR on Fuji Sensia scanned from a slide - July 15th 1998
Sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s - I don't remember exactly when- I was browsing through an airplane magazine in the infamous Aviation Hobby Shop in West Drayton, England. The centre spread was a beautiful sunny shot of an Ilyushin IL-62 of the East German airline Interflug over the piano keys, taken from an elevated position against a backdrop of green trees, terracotta houses and a shimmering blue lake. "Wow" I thought "where was THAT taken?" Well - it was here.....
Corfu - Kerkyra is the airport serving the island of Corfu, the most northern and second largest of the Greek Ionian Islands. Corfu was one of many places to benefit from the boom in package holidays that started in the early 1970s. People started to flock here attracted by the guaranteed weather along with cheap flights and accommodation and it soon became a very popular tourist destination. Little has changed since then except the ever-increasing number of holidaymakers. The airport and the terminal have seen little improvement or expansion to keep pace with demand. The terminal itself struggles to cope at peak times and ATC are stretched by a combination of more traffic and a lack of more modern infrastructure to help deal with it. Airplane parking spots are limited to ten, and the lack of complete radar cover (due to terrain) and precision approach aids can slow down the departure and arrival rates compared to better equipped airports. However, amid the chaos, the airport and its surroundings offer some great opportunities for airplane photography.
The traffic at Corfu is very seasonal and comprises for the most part of European charter and tour operators which can be seen at many other typical holiday destinations during the summer. However very few of these other places offer such easy and picturesque viewing so combined with the normal weather in Corfu image quality is almost guaranteed regardless of the subject. An increasing number of business jets visit Corfu and there are also fairly regular visits by military airplanes and other traffic routing from/to Europe and the Middle East which don't have the range to make it in one go and use Corfu as a re-fuelling stop. So anything could turn up as a surprise. For example, on one visit I have seen the Royal Moroccan Air Force Boeing 737-800 accompanied by a C-130 - presumably the Moroccan Royal family were in town.
Jeppesen chart for LGKR showing runway and ramp configuration. Business jet traffic parks north of stand number 10 to the east of taxiway link A. I have not seen the light aircraft apron used for anything other than the Andromeda fire surveillance aircraft for many years.
Corfu has several good vantage points for photography depending on the runway in use and the time of day. All these are located in the small village of Kanoni on a peninsula to the east of the airport, or across the causeway to Pontikonisi just the other side of the lagoon. Preferred operations are from runway 35 as this facilitates more expeditious approach sequencing and vacation of the runway to the parking areas which are at the north end of the airport. Departures from 17 also offer short taxi times but the departure routings often conflict with inbound traffic and can actually slow things down. Runway 17 also has a displaced threshold due to the proximity of the road at the north end of the runway so has less landing distance available. Departures often find less of a delay by backtracking 35 and departing between the arrivals. Therefore 35 is used primarily until the surface winds mean 17 is the only option - usually when the tailwind component exceeds 12 knots which is around the typical limit for most operators. When runway 17 is in use for arrivals it generally means an approach to 35 until 3 miles or so, then breaking off visually for a circling approach to 17. With anything airliner size this will involve rolling all the way to the end of the runway to the turning circle then back track 17 to exit to the ramp at the northern end. Smaller airplanes often turn within the runway width and so are too far away to shoot from the vantage points at the 35 threshold.
Assuming runway 35 is in use, the mornings are best observed from the cafe deck at the Royal Hotel. This deck extends quite a long way and offers a number of angles, and if you venture a little further down the road there is a corner on the hill as you descend where you can get the classic shot over the piano keys. At the very southern end there is also the Kanoni cafe which overlooks the final approach but doesn't allow the side-on shots over the threshold as the view is blocked by the Royal cafe deck. Either of these venues serve drinks and meals of a good standard, so it seems only polite to at least order a coffee every so often if you plan to stay a while.
The image below was shot from Snake Spit in the evening but shows the location of the Royal and Kanoni cafes. They are approximately 200 feet above the level of the runway and offer an ideal perspective for both landing and departing traffic.
Nikon D7000 c/s 80-200 f2.8 - 170mm 1/500 f7.1 ISO 100 -1/3 EV - June 19th 2012
The image below was shot from the "corner on the hill" - a 3 minute walk down the road from the Royal Cafe deck. This gives an angle to include the runway threshold markings provided the approach is flown low enough. A good spot for early arrivals before the deck opens around 9 am. This is exactly where the shot of the Interflug IL-62 in the magazine article was taken from.
Nikon D7000 c/s 80-200 f2.8 - 112mm 1/500 f5 ISO 100 -1/3 EV - June 23rd 2012
Around midday, the sun passes overhead and its time to move on to somewhere the light is behind you again. For runway 35 my preferred location initially would be Nisos bar and restaurant, which is a short walk down the hill and across the causeway. Run by the owner George, Nisos is an lovely and hospitable place where you can get a decent lunch and spend some time out of the sun, shooting from the deck under the canopy. The owners are used to airplane enthusiasts and always welcome me back when I pay a return visit. I can also recommend this place for an evening meal. When night falls and the camera has been put away, the food and drink here is excellent. The service is also very good and George has put a lot of effort into making sure the place looks first class.
The image below was shot from the Royal Cafe deck towards midday but shows the location of Nisos restaurant. The elevation isn't as high as the Royal but still offers a good vantage point for arrivals in the afternoon.
Canon 5DS c/w 100-400mm IS - 170mm 1/400 f7.1 ISO 100 - September 8th 2017
The image below was shot from the deck at Nisos bar and restaurant
Nikon D7000 c/s 80-200 f2.8 - 85mm 1/640 f6.3 ISO 100 -1/3 EV - June 20th 2012
The other location I have used for afternoon and evening shooting is what I refer to as Snake Spit - this is because I have noticed a few snakes here from time to time so thats clearly something to be aware of. Its actually along the western edge of the lagoon after you have crossed the causeway and climbed down to the shoreline and passed over a little bridge. Its about the best angle you can get short of actually wading out into the lagoon itself which is not advisable with a bunch of expensive camera gear.
The image below was shot from the Royal Cafe deck but shows the location of Snake Bridge and Snake Spit
Nikon D7000 c/s 80-200 f2.8 - 112mm 1/640 f5.6 ISO 100 -1/3 EV - June 21st 2012
The image below was shot from Snake Spit in the late afternoon
Nikon D7000 c/s 80-200 f2.8 - 135mm 1/500 f5 ISO 100 - June 23rd 2012
The image below was shot from Snake Spit in the late afternoon departing runway 17 - the climb rate of a C-130 being somewhat inferior to most airliners meant the shot was better than it may otherwise have been. For most departures on 17 this angle would be too low.
Nikon D7000 c/s 80-200 f2.8 - 170mm 1/250 f8 ISO 100 -1/3 EV - June 19th 2012
The other place everyone seems to go to watch the action is the causeway which links the east and west sides of the lagoon at the southern end. This a narrow concrete wall where you can sit and watch the airplanes right under the final approach for runway 35. Care is needed as this is also a short-cut rat run for the local motor scooter population, some of which have little regard for pedestrians. It lacks any night time illumination either so if you dine at Nisos after dark and have to walk back to your hotel in Kanoni make sure you have a torch function on your smartphone. The causeway is a good place to shoot runway 35 departures in the afternoon as they turn through 180 degrees to line up.
The image below was shot from the western end of the causeway in the mid-afternoon as the airplane turns through 180 degrees for departure on runway 35
Canon 5DS c/w 100-400mm - 250mm 1/500 f7.1 ISO 100
As far as accommodation is concerned, experience (as of 2017) shows that both the Corfu Holiday Palace and the Ariti Grand Hotel in Kanoni are very reasonable places to stay and offer many rooms that have views of the airplane movements and the airport itself. It is noticeable that the Corfu Holiday Palace prices have increased significantly year on year and the Ariti represents better value based on a first stay experience there this year. Many other options are available locally but I cannot relate any first hand opinions of these alternatives.
Airbus A300 landing runway 35 at sunset from the east end of the causeway.
Nikon 35mm SLR on Fuji Sensia - scanned from a slide July 17th 1998