There are two main parts to the aviation park, which is open every day (with the exception of major holidays). The aviation park is split into three main areas. There is a large car park where you can basically park your car and explore on foot. There is a smaller car park at the front with many less spaces. Here you can park and actually watch the planes as they take off and land (I visited at 2pm in the afternoon, and spaces here are very few and far between, as this is where many of the serious plane enthusiasts come and park!).
In addition, you can walk on foot and visit the wooden built platforms that act as the viewing areas. These also contain binoculars, for which there is a small fee (payable there).
The main reason that I was interested in visiting the aviation park was to visit Concorde, always wishing that I had flown on it when it was in service and now very much regretting not having done it! The very first thing to note when visiting Concorde is that yes, it is part of the aviation park, and yes, you do have to pay to get into the aviation park to see Concorde (see below), BUT you also have to pay to get onto Concorde, you can only visit on select days throughout the year, and you do have to pre-book!! (When I visited, there were LOTS of disappointed people, as they could not get to see inside the Concorde).
How does it work?
Check out the Manchester Airport website for dates that Concorde is open, as well as booking information, but basically the Concorde tour appears to be operated by a voluntary origination, and as such, it is only open on very select weekends through the year (these tend to be mainly bank holidays, etc., such as Easter). Check the Manchester Airport website for the link to available dates, as well as booking. The basic cost when I visited was £10 per person, and there is a number to call to book via the website. It is quite hard to get hold of the gentleman who takes bookings, but if you leave a message, he does get back to you! He then reserves the date and time of your visit, you send a cheque, and then he sends out confirmation including souvenir tickets, guide leaflet, and directions. All very simple!
The tour itself starts with a historical video about Concorde, which takes 20 minutes or so. Each tour is assigned a guide, and there were no more than 10 people in our group, meaning that there were plenty of opportunities to ask questions and find out more about Concorde. After the video and a few initial questions, you are guided to the outside of Concorde, where you spend another twenty minutes or so walking around the undercarriage, finding out about the engines and building of Concorde and other strange facts, such as how small the cargo hold is!
You then enter the plane, and the guide explains the inside of the cabin to you, including which was the favourite seat of the Queens (think it was 1A), as well as pointing out where other famous celebrities and dignitaries have sat on the plane (I ended up sitting in the same seat as Bill Clinton).
You can have a small walk around the cabin, which is quite small and more fashioned than you would imagine (much less luxurious as well, but I guess that you certainly get speed over luxury) before you are allowed a few minutes on the flight deck with another guide who highlights some of the literally thousand so of buttons on the deck.
Once you have seen the flight deck, you leave the plane and are free to look around further outside the plane.
I very much enjoyed the tour which lasted approximately one hour. All of the guides were very knowledgeable and offered a fascinating insight into the working life of Concorde and focussed very much on interesting rather than technological facts. Definitely worth a visit and good value for money!
You can now get married on Concorde (think this costs more than £10 but a few weddings have now taken place so ask your guide for more information!!
What else is there to do?
Not that much really as the main attraction these days does appear to be the Concorde plane. There is a Monarch 'half plan' (i.e. the front end of the plane) which I think is possibly some sort of training facility although this wasn't open to the public when I visited the viewing park. When I visited in 2004, there was also one small fighter-type plane, although I am not sure exactly what sort of plane this was!
I think that when you visit, you will basically be able to see one or two planes other than Concorde, although you can only view these planes from the outside and will not be able to board them.
When we visited there was one small burger bar that served hot and cold drinks and basic snack food. This refreshment stand does kind of have a captive audience, but the food looked okay and did seem to be reasonably priced. There was also an ice cream stand, although I am assuming that this is more of a weather-dependent feature!
There are ample toilet facilities that are well-kept and clean. There are facilities for people with disabilities.
There is a well-sized port cabin shop that offers a wide range of aviation-related merchandise, including current books and magazines. There are lots of cheaper items for kids, including a very wide selection of model planes. There also lots of souvenir items such as postcards and, when I visited, LOTS of Concorde-related merchandise, including pens and stationery and cups. It's a well-stocked shop with friendly and knowledgeable staff, and I am sure that anyone will find a bit of something they wish to buy (but then again, that's kind of the idea I am sure!!)
As well as visiting Concorde, you can just visit the aviation park, which will you pay per car to get it. The basic cost is £3 per car, which includes the driver, and then £1 per additional passenger. I think that minivans, etc., are priced around £10 plus.
Who's it for and accessibility?
I would say that the aviation park would definitely appeal to anyone who has any interest in planes, but even if you are not a big fan of planes, it is absolutely fascinating to watch the speed at which tiny planes and big Boeing 747s whiz in and out of Manchester Airport, and if you visit at peak time, I think that there is a plane every two minutes or so!
You definitely need to try and visit here when the weather is nice, as there are not many places to shelter or hide if it was bounding down with rain! If it's sunny, there are also some grassed areas that the kids can run some steam off on! Beware, though, that there are always lots of cars in the car park, so keep kids close by if you're near moving traffic!
As far as I am aware, the majority of the viewing park would be accessible to people in wheelchairs. There are disabled toilets. However, I do not think that people in wheelchairs would be able to gain access to Concorde.
Anything else around there?
If you are travelling a long way to visit the aviation park, then Manchester Airport, with its three terminals, including shops and restaurants, may be worth a visit. I would highly recommend the walk from between terminals one and two along the mile-long glass-covered walkway. It's a great chance to stretch your legs, and kids love the moving pavements. There's even a Marks and Spencer and a railway station in between! Short-stay car parking is available at all the three terminals.
I would recommends logging into the Manchester Airport website for directions or using an online map such as multimap to gain directions to the airport. Once you are 1 mile or so from the airport then you can just follow the brown signs to the viewing park. The main airport is the M56 (not sure of the junction number!) and it only takes five minutes or so once you leave the motorway to arrive at the viewing park.
I am not too sure about public transport, as I don't think that there are buses here, but there is a railway station in between terminals 1 and 2 at the airport, with trains that run from Manchester City Centre.