Aviation In Canada

Friday, September 16, 2005

Airplane Watchers

I was one of them, and occasionally still fill the role. An airport watcher. You know the kind: they sit near an approach path just outside the airport fence, or perhaps on a hill overlooking a particular part of an airfield. They often have long telephoto lenses, radios (and some like myself, more than one with a mixer and a loud speaker so everyone can hear more than one channel continuously) and a huge love of airplanes and aviation. Many of these people subscribe to one of the disciplines to an extreme compared to most people. Some have incredible camera setups, with the sole intention of capturing airplanes of all kinds. Some have fantastic radio gear, whose only radio frequencies not found in the VHF and UHF air bands are those associated with airport security and operations.

These groups tend to annoy other groups. While most of the diehards will park clear of pavement, they often draw other, casual observers in who don't understand the finer points of getting out of the way of traffic first, which leads to complaints and a police presence. Then they are often shooed away, only to return later. Some airport security personnel tend to view these people as security risks, when in fact all they want to do is watch airplanes. Airport authorities dislike these people, since they are often seen as the public eye, watching carefully for anything that doesn't go as it should, possibly exposing liability.

The Greater Toronto Airport Authority was one of those until recently. Then, a group of these airport watchers got together and did something that surprised me, among others. They put together a little organization and made an agreement with the GTAA that had them as unofficial watchdogs, an extra set of eyes for airport security. They have no authority to arrest individuals or issue parking tickets, but they have a structure and some respect now and act to help keep an eye open and report suspicious activities near the airport. All of this in return for a little peace and quiet and to be left alone while they watch the operations they meant to see all along -- the airplanes.

Have a look at their website, for curiousity's sake if for no other reason. And the next time you fly into LBPIA (CYYZ), have a look on the final approach path by the fence and see if they wave you in.