Plane Spotting History

An Introduction to Plane Spotting from a Malaga Spotter

What on earth is plane spotting and who are plane spotters? Here are a couple of definitions to help you out.

Plane spotting: watching airplanes

Plane spotters: plane watchers or photographers, commonly known in Spanish aeronautical circles as “aerotrastornados” (in English, the equivalent might be the “aero-crazy” or airplane-addicts).

There are basically two types of spotters. The first, and best known, are photographers who capture images of planes in flight, landing, taking off or in other special circumstances. These spotters tend to file away thousands and thousands of photos over the years. The second type uses binoculars to watch planes and identify their number plates and other characteristics in order to keep a record. They don’t take photos.

Spotters are generally interested in all types of aircraft from the largest jets to the smallest planes or even gliders or hot air balloons. And the stranger, the better. In fact, there is a whole category of spotting dedicated to special sightings, “avistamientos” in Spanish, where spotters identify anything out of the ordinary – a plane that doesn’t usually operate in a certain airport, a new paint job or decoration, a new airline arriving on the scene – anything that new and different is interesting to spotters.

Where can you find Malaga’s spotters?

The best spotters congregate naturally at both ends of the runway. The north end is number 13 and the south is number 31 (The numbers used to be 14 and 32 respectively, but were changed in keeping with changes in the magnetic poles). Check out the map to find out where they meet, because you can be sure to learn a lot from the experts if you stop by these areas to join in the spotting. Foreign spotters visiting the Costa del Sol often stop by and spend the best part of the day taking pictures of aircraft they don’t usually see in their home countries.

Keep in mind that plane spotters are always on the lookout for the perfect location that puts the sun behind their backs – in order to get the best shots. But they also need to combat their worst enemy: FENCES. This means that you’ll generally find Málaga’s spotters not only with the sun to their backs, but also in slightly elevated areas that allow them to get great photos without those dreaded fences obstructing the view from the camera lens.

What about security issues?

This is the most sensitive issue. In some countries – or specific airports – spotters are not welcome because they are confused with possible security threats (it’s been this way since 9/11 and other world terrorist threats have occurred). In some cases spotters have even been arrested, had their equipment confiscated and had to pay fines. Regulations are quite strict.

Fortunately for us, there are many places that understand us and let us practice spotting in peace. But in case of doubt, it’s a good idea to check with authorities first to be sure spotting is allowed.

On the other side of the coin, there are countries that actually make it easy to practice spotting. In some places they even create view points or allow spotters to access ideal areas for watching planes. What’s more, there have been cases of spotters who have alerted authorities regarding incidents they’ve seen, thus helping out with airport security!

What do spotters do with their photos?

In addition to organizing and filing their photos, spotters love to share them with other hardcore spotters and also with the rest of the world. Thanks to Internet, the spotter’s dream has come true. Now spotters can carefully prepare their photos for publication in specialized web pages. However, to be accepted, the photos must meet stiff criteria, which is why spotters spend so much time retouching their work. Once a spotter has managed to get a photo published, the number of “visits” can become a great source of pride, but without a competitive spirit, because spotters basically love to admire the work of others as well.

How did spotting start?

Spotting began in Great Britain during World War II, when the population was trained to observe enemy planes in order to rapidly alert the military. Today, the countries with the largest number of plane spotting fans are the UK, Germany and Holland. However, spotting is growing in countries around the world, for example, in Spain.

What relationship does the Malaga Airport Museum have with spotters?

Since the beginning, the Málaga Airport Museum – Aeroplaza – and the Friends of the Museum association have been interested in spotting. Thanks to these entities there are a number of places available for spotting, such as the historic control tower from the 1950´s that is part of the museum today. The museum is also a meeting point for spotters. In reality, all of members of the Friends of the Museum association are interested in spotting in some form or another. One year the national association of Spanish spotters even designated Málaga as its meeting point and asked the museum for help organizing the event.

Where can we get more information about spotting in Spain?

These are the main websites for Spanish spotters:

  • Aviation Corner
  • Aire
  • Jet Photos
  • Airliners
  • My Aviation

A special tribute to Malaga spotters

I’d like to finish this essay with by making a special tribute to the spotters who send photos of Málaga Airport to these websites. Their photos can be seen everywhere, which turns our museum into a showcase that travels around the world, just like the aircraft in the museum.

In conclusion, I hope I’ve explained plane spotting clearly for those who are new to this activity, and maybe even interest more people in trying it out (they won’t regret it). And, may experts in the field keep sharing their expertise so we can keep learning from them.


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