Many aviation enthusiasts enjoy looking out the window during their flight – as evidenced by a recent AFF debate on window shades. But there are certain things that you can’t see just by looking out the aircraft window – such as the outside of the plane, and the view in front of you. This is where external aircraft tail cameras can be great.
On some planes, passengers can watch the view outside of the aircraft through the airline’s in-flight entertainment system. For example, Qantas offers the “skycam” on its Airbus A380s. The tail cameras are a hugely popular feature as many passengers enjoy watching their flight taking off and landing from another perspective.
I recently flew EK F into DXB and CDG and the view from the tail looking forward as we were on approach was amazing. Both were night time landings with the airports lit up like Christmas trees
Best one I’ve experienced was with a Japanese airline of 10 years ago that I sadly can’t remember. Flying from NRT to CTS when the country was snowbound, the views were amazing.
So… Which aircraft and airlines stream external views of the flight within the in-flight entertainment system?
External cameras are not fitted to every aircraft type. For example, cameras don’t come as standard on the Boeing 787, nor smaller narrow-body jets like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. But the Airbus A380, Airbus A350 and newer Boeing 777-300s and Boeing 777-300ERs do come fitted with external cameras. These are mainly for the benefit of the pilots – for example, the external cameras on the A380 help with steering the giant aircraft on the ground. But airlines can choose to pay extra to have a live feed from these cameras stream through the in-flight entertainment system – and most do.
Airlines that offer an outside view of the aircraft through the in-flight entertainment system include:
- Qatar Airways on the Airbus A350 and Airbus A380
- Emirates on the Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A380
- Qantas on the Airbus A380
- Cathay Pacific on the Airbus A350
- Finnair on the Airbus A350
- Thai Airways on the Airbus A380 and Airbus A350
- Virgin Atlantic on the Airbus A350
- Japan Airlines and ANA on various wide-body aircraft types
Note that this list is not exhaustive!
Interestingly, British Airways decided not to offer tail camera views to passengers on its new Airbus A350 aircraft, despite having the option to do so.
The A380s and A350s come equipped with tail cameras that are fed to the cockpit, but airlines have to pay extra to have them fed into the IFE.
British Airways on their new A350s did not stump up the extra cash for the IFE feed, so there is no tail cam on the new BA A350s even though the cameras exist.
On some aircraft, multiple different viewing angles are even offered through the in-flight entertainment. For example, there might be cameras on the aircraft’s tail, nose and/or belly.
Finnair A350 have both the tail and the undercarriage cameras. They are excellent viewing.
As technology improves, airlines have started to become even more creative with external cameras. For example, passengers in Emirates’ new Boeing 777 First Class can get a simulated window view, even if they’re not sitting beside a window!
From a passenger perspective, it can also be extremely interesting to listen to live communication between the pilots and air traffic controllers. United Airlines is one of the only airlines today that offers this feature, through “Channel 9” of the in-flight entertainment system. However, the live feed is not available on all United flights. Some aircraft are not equipped with the technology, and pilots are able to switch it off if they choose.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Aircraft cameras – as in views from outside – who has them?