Hi all Ian Shoesmith from BBC News again. I was the fella who did the pilot fatigue investigation, along with transport correspondent Tom Symonds. We're just about to run with this story this morning:
"Plane spotters are set to be recruited by the police to help safeguard an airport from criminal and terrorist activity. Durham Tees Valley airport near Darlington is looking at the possibility of an 'airport watch' scheme. Danny Savage reports:
The airport says the scheme would harness aircraft spotters' expert knowledge and regular presence and add it to existing safety measures.A similar initiative has been up and running at Bristol Airport since March this year, using spotters as extra eyes and ears for the police and on-site security staff. Organisers are stressing a meeting next week to discuss the proposals was arranged long before the recent incident at Glasgow airport. But police say they believe that plane spotters could potentially be the first to spot any suspicious activity at the airport."
We'd be very interested in hearing from you all about this -- particularly spotters. If you could email me firstname.lastname@example.org including a phone number, I'd be very grateful.
Frankly I don't need any journo to tell me anything about any terrorist measure. I hope our Government will quietly and thoroughly do its job and I wish 24 hour news coverage had never been produced. Why do we need to know about anything to do with our protection/Armed Forces etc. It used to really annoy me to see some idiot journo standing near Brize Norton? counting off the heavily laden B-52's and telling the entire world about it! Nothing has changed has it? Aviate 1138
Ian, I'll email you directly with some comments on this.
I think it is a very good idea, personally, although unfortunately, it's applied inconsistently. All enthusiasts - and indeed, anyone using an airport - should be on guard/alert at all times for suspicious activity. The problem is that whether this approach is taken varies very much from airport to airport. Gatwick, for example is very anti-enthusiast (Heathrow, not much better) and provides absolutely no facilities; the point is that if an airport provides a vantage point where all wishing to watch acft can congregate, it cuts down on the number of people seeking various different nooks and crannies around the airport, which in turn contributes to suspicion.
Naturally, authorities are keen to be seen taking a tough line in the event of a serious terrorist threat, but it can be far more effective to engage the Mk 1 brain first and make sure that all possible assets (including enthusiasts) that can be used to provide info and prevent an attack are foiled. Making life as difficult as possible for enthusiasts, while also expecting them to co-operate doesn't seem like particularly good psychology; it's all take and no give.
Professional airline and airport workers are now treated with suspicion and contempt. They are not permitted to take water to work. Not permitted to take a normal tube of toothpaste airside. Food is confiscated daily. Belts off, hats off, shoes off, epaulettes off. These workers are humiliated daily and treated as the potential enemy. Yet THESE frontline people are the ones who should be encouraged and brought onside to be the eyes and ears. And it isn't happening. People are angry and alienated. Most are downtrodden, heads down, stay down. Few speak up and question a security anomalies anymore - they just end up being threatened with their job for bucking the system and not setting a good example!
So what do "the authorities" want to do now? Get complete outsiders, "spotters", to be the eyes and ears? To be the "home army"?
Humiliate the Captain, recruit the amateur. Does anyone see something very very sick with the system here?
Answer? Well, they had an opportunity in the 90's and the 'spotters' failed.
Those peace loving people from an Island not far from the West Coast dug a big hole and filled it will mortar tubes, right next to where the spotters congregate. The result, spotters didn't notice.
End result a series of load bangs and 3 flew over the perrimeter fence. Luckily, nothing went bang when it landed.
The UK had been a target for Irish terrorism for years. The mortar episode wasn't the first go at LHR, and in none of the previous attacks (Car bombs in car parks as I recall) did spotters help in any way shape or form.
In fact after the mortar attacks, they still invaded LHR daily, meaning we had to divert resources to deal with them as well as everything else.
In short, it's a nice theory, but reality doesn't support it. Given the amount of extra police time and effort put in to deal with them verus the lack of result, is it worth the effort in administering it? No.
Answer? Well, they had an opportunity in the 90's and the 'spotters' failed.
Very unfair comment bjcc. Firstly, neither the public nor the government were on terror alert at the level which we have experienced since 911. It may be argued that they should have been,but they weren't. Secondly, during those times the spotters still enjoyed the use of a dedicated viewing area which was nowhere near where the missiles were launched. And lastly, was this not a night attack? If so, that's when the spotters knock off and the police should be making more regular checks. Of course, I'm simplifying it greatly in this short answer, but I feel that your response was not objective.
Plus avman...as you know..a copper is NEVER off duty
I'd much rather see a good investigative piece on how crews are treated..(not that we are above security/suspicion)..and the missed opportunity to include us as part of the team, rather than the threat.
I don't accept what you call a lack of objectivity. Yes, my reply was tongue in cheek to a large extent, but the message remains valid.
However, answering your points.
Yes, the UK was on 'terror alert' to what extent, I can't recall. However the site in question was the second and went off over 24 hour after the first. So whatever level had been in place, was upped.
You are correct, the mortars from this site were fired at night. BUT that isn't when they were planted. Which was very much during the day, and in full view of the spotters, but who noticed nothing at all.
There was no dedicated viewing area at the time, QB having been closed for some time by then.
In the 11 years I was stationed at LHR, I cannot remember one instance of a spotter calling police for anything suspect. But, I can remember a lot of calls from airport staff about suspect objects and people, including in places where spotters had been, and apparently ignored it.
Again, I go back to the point I made, that we had been the subject of attacks from Irish Terrorism for years in the UK, and in spite of that, and Heathrow having been a target before, spotters provided nothing useful.
On the other hand, spotters did take up a great deal of time, both before and after the closure of QB.
The issues about parking in front of crash gates and RVP entrances remained about the same as before. As did the assumed rights of spotters to park in buisness premises on the East side, and tell the people that should be able to park there to Fox Oscar.
They didn't worry at all before after QB closed about dumping thier cars in say Emery Airfrieght and wandering off, leaving them blocked in. I could go on and on about it, but suffice to say that having seen it from the other side, the effect of them being there is way out of proportion to a preceived advantage.
Bit harsh there mate. Stationed at LHR for eleven years? Shows!
I'm just back from Glasgow where the Police were courteous and friendly as were the BAA Security chaps. No problems taking pictures at the fence or the gates. Appreciated. We have a good relationship with the airport authority and so long as we don't park at the crash gates or damage the fence, they seem happy enough to have us about. If I did see anyone behaving suspiciously, I would phone the Police as would any of my other "spotter" friends. Let's be honest, the link between unnecessary harassment of aircrew in search is not directly linked to plane spotters! Also there are I'm sure a number of your colleagues in ATC who would disagree with such bitterness I'm sure.
You would phone police if you saw someone/thing suspicious, great, why do you need a spotter watch for others to do it? Which is my point, why have a spotterwatch for the obvious?
You don't park in front of crash gates etc, again, great, but if only everyone did that! But no form of spotterwatch is going to stop it.
I have no objection to spotters, well apart from one bus spotter but thats a different story. What I do object to, and so did many other police officers at LHR was the way they acted, most of which was against common sense as well as legislation. As a result of which, the amount of time we had to spend dealing with them was high. That time could and would have been better spent.
And because they acted in the way they did, they all get tarred that way. It was probably for that reason the BAA always wanted spotters removed. Once outside the airport fence, eg Myrtle Ave, thats fine. But that is the point where they could have proved thier worth, and didn't.
As I said at the begining, its a nice theory, that shouldn't be needed, in that its a public duty to report anything suspicious anyway, but even if in place, will it achieve anything? No, I'm sorry I don't think it will.
I would have thought anything that leads to people being stood around near airports, for what ever reason would add to security risk, and the more of them ''authorised'' would lead to a complacency assessment build up.
A ''spotter'' stood at a perimeter fence with a long lense camera one day could be stood there with a surface to air device the next.
This is obviously a extreme scenario , but I hope you get my drift ?
The BAA need to keep spotters out of Heathrow as there's not enough room for the passengers, never mind meeters and greeters and spotters. However if there was, and this is my serious point for a minute, the Police would be able to point people in the direction of a designated viewing area and people would be able to enjoy a little time at the airport, in the open air and away from the juvenile petty hassle that is what passes for aviation in this country. BJCC - I hear what you're saying and you make a good point as there are some proper idiot spotters however there are a few good uns too. Much like the Police oddly enough.......
Really can't see the problem with spotters assisting / doing the security. After all they will have had just as much training for the job as the current lot of job's worth's, and probably as much common sense. Security checks, ID cards were really just a waste of time, so why not have all and sundry. Be assured that Mr Shoesmith is not interested in doing an article as to why the people who have been in the industry for years, and are responsible, are peed off. No sensation there. Could he possibly explain why removing my contact lense fluid from my flight case makes me safe to fly an aircraft with 60 odd tonnes of fuel on board over central London an hour or so later. No. Not really Mr Shoesmiths problem, but when are those useless so and so's at BALPA going to get off there collective backsides and do something about it. Short and long answers... never. To politically sensitive to get involved with, might make the rise to an MEP a bit difficult. Then better stop the membership me thinks, waste of money