Unlike its better-known sister hobby, trainspotting, there are an avid number of plane spotters to be found in Gibraltar, not least because there are no trains here. We took some time to learn a bit more of this past-time which may, at first, sound a bit geeky and nerdy.
What exactly is plane spotting and what does a spotter look like? “We come from every walk of life and each one of us takes our interest differently” says David Parody who is better known as a photographer in local circles. “My interest is in photography so I tend to look for subjects, mainly military, and try to photograph them in a more arty pose.”
Aircraft registrations form an important part of plane spotting, a certain registration can have an interesting history, making it a must-have for spotters, or they may just want to ‘collect’ every registration of a certain aircraft or livery, it also helps to look out for any special liveries which might arrive in Gibraltar or the nearby airports.
Retired banker, William Jardim, is more of an aviation enthusiast and focuses not only on photographing all things that fly but also closely follows the aviation industry itself from a military and technological perspective. His first spotting experience was in 1988 when working in London, he attended the Farnborough air show. It was the year that the Russians came with a plethora of aircrafts never seen before in the West. He was hooked and has since travelled the world extensively photographing aircrafts. First with film format cameras and thereafter in digital format; from the east coast of Australia heading west as far as the Pacific coast of the US. Despite all of this travelling, his preferred spotting location is the viewing balcony found at the entrance to Gibraltar’s Great Siege Tunnels. If only Gibraltar were to have more aircraft movements; both civil and military…
As with most other types of spotters, this is largely a social hobby and they frequently travel together to Seville and Malaga airports and Moron and Rota air bases in the hope of catching something unusual, often coming back empty handed. “It’s the banter and conversation on the way there and back that makes a four-hour round-trip so enjoyable, even if you haven’t caught anything” says Daniel Ferro. But the group has also travelled to Zaragoza for a NATO Tiger Meet and Albacete, and more recently, some of them went to the Royal International Air Tattoo in Fairford.
One of the regular spotters, namely, Moshi Anahory, fits his busy legal practice with his passion for aircraft photography and is lucky to share his enthusiasm with his two boys Natan and Daniel aged 15 and 12. Apart from trips to Spain and beyond with local fellow spotters, Moshi has taken his boys to several air shows in the UK and Spain and for some aircraft photography in Seville and Malaga. Natan and Daniel thoroughly enjoy the air shows and the opportunity to see incredible displays and to photograph interesting and often unique aircrafts. At the Royal International Air Tattoo this year, they enjoyed an impressive and varied display and Daniel managed to take some very good photographs. Moshi says; “I really enjoy the father/son bonding that comes with sharing this passion for aircrafts and hope that we will continue to share this over the coming years”.
So, what makes a plane interesting enough to merit a drive up to Moron de la Frontera or Malaga and how do you get to hear about them? Plane spotting is huge, the recent Torre del Mar air show in August attracted over 300,000 visitors and RIAT 60,000 a day for four days. With huge interest come internet groups and WhatsApp chats which sometimes reveal times and dates of aircraft that have something different. This might be a special paint job or an aircraft displaying a livery commemorating a historical event or one which is not a regular visitor to our part of the world. Most of the information, however, is sourced through personal contacts with other spotters in Spain and the UK.
“It is very hit and miss, usually more misses than hits” says David. “Military flights tend to cancel, arrive later than scheduled or earlier, seldom on the date and time you’ve been told.” A lot of lot of rivalry between spotters exists but unfortunately, at times, somewhat unhealthy. “Regrettably, the notion of being the only one to catch a rare aircraft at a particular location leads to some distributing misleading information about dates and timings” added Chris Milan, an IT specialist.
Some of the spotters also carry with them airband radio scanners to listen in to air traffic controllers of nearby airports to try to determine what’s happening but a lot of reliance in placed on web-based apps like FlightRadar24 and ADS-B Exchange, the latter shows military as well civilian aircrafts. One even has his own receiver at home to see aircraft flying up to 200km away and shares this data with those apps.
If you are interested in plane spotting, there exists a Gibraltar Aviation Enthusiasts Group on Facebook which you can apply to join and see what these guys, and lot of others in Gibraltar, are up to.