Planespotters taste the ‘aviation action’

Move over trainspotters, there’s a new breed of transport stalker about — planespotters.

Visit just about any major airport and look for signs to the observation deck where you can gaze out over a balcony at the airport apron and see the runway where planes are landing and departing.

You can also look at something far more interesting — the people watching the planes. They range in age from eight to 80, and even entire families are drawn into the pastime. So serious is the business of planespotting that several magazines dedicated to the pursuit are sold in the United Kingdom and the United States.

I visited the observation decks at Cape Town International airport, Lanseria, north of Johannesburg, and OR Tambo International. At Lanseria we came across our fi rst spotter, Walter Emmett. It turns out he’s a visitor from Leeds in the UK and has been planespotting for seven years.

Armed with an airband radio and a pair of binoculars, he’s quite happy to spend hours watching the comings and goings of aircraft. Airband is the band of frequencies used for radio communication in aviation. “Wherever I go in the world, I can get a taste of aviation action by visiting the airport, choosing a spot and settling down,” he says.

Emmett says planespotting is probably not one of the great South African pastimes but that legions of planespotters can be found at airports in Europe. “Like birdwatchers, planespotters often carry notebooks to jot down the aircraft they see. I suppose, like birds, aircraft are migratory and it’s interesting to plot the patterns that emerge.

“Observation decks can get pretty crowded and even bad weather doesn’t keep dedicated people away. Some airports are better equipped than others for planespotters and first prize is always a spot at the end of a runway where the jets roar low overhead as they take off or land.”

Locally, planespotters tend to be people just having a casual look while they wait for arriving passengers. Some were genuinely perplexed when we asked them if they were planespotting. At Cape Town International, the tell-tale airband radio gave away civil engineer Ray Tame as a serious spotter.

“It’s relaxing and interesting, especially during the World Cup when we got to see aircraft that don’t usually appear here. I come to the airport about once a month for a few hours but I know some people who do it at least once a week. It doesn’t cost anything and it gets you out of the house,” he says. Emmett’s favourite sighting? “That’s easy — Airforce One. It gets me every time.”

Keep the powerful accountable

Subscribe for R30/mth for the first three months. Cancel anytime.

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.

Greg Gordon
Guest Author

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Afcon: Ghana’s Black Stars need a fresh start and a...

Ghana have failed to reach the Afcon’s knockout stages for the first time since 2006. With the World Cup qualifiers on the horizon, some soul-searching is required if they are to go to Qatar.

Motsepe blames closed gate for Afcon tragedy

A child was among the dead, while 38 were injured as fans attempted to enter the Olembe Stadium where the hosts Cameroon were playing the Comoros, according to figures released by the country's health ministry.

Summer in the Cederberg region is rooibos harvest season

International demand for rooibos is expected to grow exponentially, according to the South African Rooibos Council

Winde does not rule out criminal charges against suspended Western...

An independent legal counsel will investigate allegations made against the Democratic Alliance’s Fritz, and criminal charges are not out of the question

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…