British plane spotters arrested in Delhi for indulging in an aviation friendly activity – Update 2

Update 2 – 21 February

TV channel News 9 showcased airplane spotting and the Aviation Photographers India in a video segment. See the video here.

Update 1 – 17 February

In an effort to set the record straight about spotting, I sent information on spotting to the Hindustan Times and The Times of India newspapers. Their stories can be read below.

Times of India
Hindustan Times

–Original article – 16 February–

Many of you enjoy the fruits of my passion — plane spotting. Unfortunately, two British plane spotters landed up in detention in India’s capital New Delhi for indulging in plane spotting.

Stephen Hampston (46) and Steve Martin (55) were detained in their fourth floor room of the Radisson hotel at Mahipalpur right opposite runway 11-29 at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, for indulging in “suspicious” activities.

Police sources said the duo, who were suspected to be tracking the movement of flights arriving and departing from the international airport, were allegedly in possession of powerful binoculars and other sophisticated equipment. As most Bangalore Aviation readers know, spotters use high power binoculars, telescopes and camera lenses. The Duo was also using the AirNav RadarBox which is a Real Time Virtual Radar using ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast) radar signals. Just like scanners for audio broadcast, the box is only a receiver and projects a virtual image of the ATC radar screen and most of the security agencies involved in the investigation have given clearance to the software.

In India, spotting is still in the closet partly due to a lack of knowledge on the part of security officials and partly due to its specialised nature which requires significant investment in camera gear and photographic skills. Ignorance breeds suspicion. Add to this the natural paranoia across the nation after the recent bombing in Pune and these two spotters have landed up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In India, aviation spotting has been officially recognised by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and the first spotters group, Aviation Photographers India, was established in Bangalore in 2009.

Across the globe, aviation spotters are providing tremendous benefits to airports, aviation, and security authorities. We are trusted eyes and ears on the ground – able to immediate detect, photograph and inform about any abnormal activity.

Probably the most famous spotting incident occurred November 3, 2006 at Stockholm Arlanda airport in Sweden. A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 had a left engine failure right at take-off which was undetected by both the pilots as well as ATC. It was aviation spotters who, having photographed the failure, reported it to the airport duty officer and ensured debris was removed from the runway. See the photo at here.

As in the United Kingdom, in India spotters have joined the anti-terror fight and assist the airport security agencies, who issue spotters formal identification after due verification of credentials and in most cases a police verification. Spotters provide a valuable pair of additional eyes for secondary monitoring of airport perimeters and areas.

With our strong knowledge of airport operations, spotters provide close monitoring of ground movements – able to detect any issues with taxiing aircraft or parked aircraft.

And the results of spotting — great pictures for you to enjoy. This is my latest photograph of an IndiGo Airbus A320-232 VT-INV.

IndiGo airlines Airbus A320-232 VT-INV Bengaluru International Airport Bangalore India Spotting Aviation Photographers India
Spotting needs your support. Unlike Europe, US, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and other countries, spotting is still very unknown in India, and this ignorance breeds all forms of wild suspicions.

The AirNav RadarBox is a ADS-B box freely available. It is only a receiver and cannot transmit. There is NO information the box can capture that is already not freely available such as maps of airports, en-route and terminal area air corridors, SIDs and STARs.

It is also important to appreciate that spotters across the globe live by a code of conduct that first and foremost supports all aspects of aviation, and this includes aviation security and its fight against terror.

Spotting as an activity is benign, safe, harmless and supportive of aviation security, however it appears the WAY the two Brits went about it was wrong.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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  1. Goutham Krishnaa

    Is it Legal to Do Flight Watch in India?? Are there Any Legal Procedures to Buy the ADSB Box?? Is it Legal to Listen to LIVE-ATC??

    • No. Use of an ADSB box or listening to ATC via a scanner are illegal. In fact, these were the only charges the police could finally pin on the two British spotters.