Over the past decade or so, Dubai has grown into one of the world’s most eccentric cities, perhaps second only to Las Vegas. The home of the world’s largest building and one of the world’s most decadent hotels is also home to one of the world’s fastest-growing and most luxurious airlines, Emirates. But in spite of Dubai’s push into tourism, there’s one activity they are not friendly toward — planespotting.
Planespotting is an activity popular throughout the world, and had grown even more in recent years due to digital photography and social media. Aviation enthusiasts are constantly on the look-out for the newest aircraft, or those painted in one-off special liveries. Many airports are friendly toward planespotters, creating parks or observation areas that are conductive toward viewing aircraft movements at the airport.
Two British plane spotters recently served a two year prison sentence after photographing planes at Fujairah airport in the United Arab Emirates. Their arrest occurred on February 21st, under suspicion of espionage. Police found Conrad Clitheroe, 54, and Gary Cooper, 45 and an expatriate friend taking photos and making notes about planes at the airport. The men pled guilty, knowing it was against the law.
But why was it prohibited, if the men made their observations from public areas? You don’t even need to be at an airport in person to track the comings and goings of aircraft. Spartphone apps and websites such as FlightAware allow anyone to see which flights are arriving and departing, by broadcasting information from aircraft transponders. This information includes altitude, heading, speed and registration. The UAE’s national carrier, Emirates is owner of the world’s largest fleets of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s – two huge, modern aircraft that are both an obvious draw to aviation geeks. In addition, there are scores of photos of these aircraft easily available online. If there is potential harm to be done by allowing people to track what planes are around a commercial airport, I’m not seeing it.