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How plane spotters are helping airport security in their battle against terror

Last week saw yet another dastardly attack against the citizens of India in general and Mumbai in particular. As per the Government of India, there was no prior intelligence warning of the Mumbai blasts.

Across the world, governments have realised the importance of involving and engaging the local community to ensure a flow of information, especially on strangers or unknown person entering that community. Almost any security agency including the police have a network of confidential informants.

Post the 1993 riots, the Mumbai Police had a policy of actively engaging “Mohalla Committees”. Across North America in both the United States and Canada, voluntary “neighborhood watch” programs are an active deterent against crime. Surely there are similar programs across most countries.

Following the blasts, airports, like other sensitive installations across India, instantly went on high alert and security was beefed up. Just a couple of days before the blasts, we also saw a case where the Mumbai Police harassed a press photographer for taking a photograph of an airplane without first obtaining permission.

As an aviation enthusiast and plane spotter, it got me thinking ……..

Instead of shunning and persecuting, would it not be better for the police and airport security forces across India to co-opt the voluntary services of aviation enthusiasts and plane spotters? Can this work for airports in India? How can this be achieved?

Enthusiasts and spotters are in many ways a local community to their airport. We understand, respect, and support, the need for airports to be safe and secure from malicious elements. Almost all of us have knowledge of airport operations, some of us, vast, and some of us, not so vast. In our quest to get good photographs or to see the planes or airports better we explore all around the airport, sometimes in areas not regularly patrolled by security.

Across the world, spotters have a universal credo. Observe, record, and report. As regular visitors to our local airport we are familiar with the daily routine and can quickly observe if something is out of the ordinary.

All these traits make enthusiasts and spotters valuable sets of additional eyes for a nation’s security agencies entrusted with securing airports and their perimeters.

In many countries, airport authorities and security agencies have enrolled, enthusiasts and spotters in active volunteer groups who Observe, Record, and Report any suspicious activity to authorities while they participate in their favorite hobby of watching airplanes. The groups also keep a look out for activities like littering which attracts birds which are dangerous for airplanes, traffic blockages on access points to the airports, fires outside but in the vicinity of the airport, etc.

Volunteers are security screened and issued appropriate identification which helps security agencies distinguish them quickly.

In Canada, in cooperation with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), volunteers operate as Airport Watch Canada at the airports in the nation’s capital Ottawa and the commercial capital Toronto.

In the United Kingdom volunteers of The Aviation Enthusiast Security Scheme (TAESS), of which I too am a member, operate in cooperation with the BAA Airport Security and the Metropolitan Police.

Similar efforts are underway in the United States at the local level.

In India, the authorities at Bengaluru International Airport took initiative and supported aviation enthusiasts who eventually formed the Aviation Photographers India Foundation.

Surely the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security in cooperation with the Director General of Civil Aviation can take the success of these programs across the world and create a model for India which will only serve to strengthen security.

What are your thoughts? Is there anyone reading this post who can help take this idea up to the appropriate authorities?

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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