TPA Airport’s CEO Joe Lopano, an AvGeek!. – Photo: Ashley Iaccarino for Tampa Airport
How AvGeek-friendly is your airport? In many areas, it seems a lot more than in prior years. All across the U.S., the trend of airports opening up, being more engaging, and accommodating aviation fans continues in favor of the enthusiasts. This airport community engagement behavior is most deserving of praise, as there still remain some airports clinging to draconian, misguided harshness.
Two airports, Louisville (SDF) and Tampa (TPA), have recently caught my eye with their own outreach programs. They are doing great work, work that lays the foundation for others to adopt, and roll out on their own terms. At the end of the day, a safe airport is one with an engaged and well-informed general public. These airports get it. Does yours?
JetTip makes it easy to get notified when unusual aircraft are scheduled to visit your local airport. Sure, my avgeek friends *might* have told me about this MD-80F that visited KBFI last month, but it’s also nice to be self-sufficient.
There are lots of online aviation tracking and spotting tools available to AvGeeks and folks with a legitimate business concern for tracking aircraft.
JetTip is a new entry into the spotting category, created by Nick Benson. The web app is a one-trick pony, but it does that trick really well. Once a user is logged in (and paid up, natch; it’s not free, the service costs $5/month), they’re able to select the airports they’re interested in, choose from a variety of notification options for when interesting aircraft have filed for either arrival or departure, and away you go.
The app is web-based, which means there’s not a phone-specific app. On iOS, for example, I just bookmarked the site by saving a link to the home screen, and it simply launches the site in my default browser. Easy.
A good friend was a beta tester for this app and became quite a fan. That made me curious about it, so I contacted the developer to ask for a review and I was given free access. I wasn’t actually sure that it would impress me enough to end up with a story, but it turns out that I was quite wrong about that.
I’ve been using the app for a few months now, both locally and while traveling. Here are my observations.
Aviation enthusiasts pose with a Virgin Atlantic A340 – Photo: Daniel Palen
As an avid plane spotter, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with the curious/uninformed public, skeptic law enforcement officers (LEOs), airport staff, and even airline employees. Typically these exchanges go positively and, with luck, without missing out on any good shots: “Who are you? What are you doing? Why are you taking photos in a post-9/11 world?” To which I respond: JL Johnson, frequent traveler, airline reporter, and, most importantly: AvGeek.
Typically I tell them about my passion and how [whatever organization they represent] is generally supportive (or at least tolerant) of such activity. It’s not uncommon that I pull out an iDevice and show the inquirer samples of my work and/or tweets endorsing or acknowledging spotting from various institutions (I keep a list of tweets handy for this very reason – you should too).
While doing homework on the environment in advance of spotting is key, I find that the more geeky and passionate I make the conversation the quicker a situation is defused. Apparently geeks can’t be bad guys. For whatever reason, people respond better not to fact, but passion/emotion. So I bring both.
Plane spotting – even toddlers do it! Photo: JL Johnson
That’s the typical interaction. Alas, my attempts to convince folks that I’m not a terrorist and that my telephoto lens doesn’t shoot plane-crippling ray-gun beams are not always successful. I had one such interaction recently at Chicago’s Midway Airport (MDW) which I’d like to detail if only to clear the air about what’s generally allowed vs. not, how to handle these encounters, and to assure my AvGeek brethren that it’s typically OK to take photos of publicly-visible property from public areas. But…your results may vary.
Midway Airport just doesn’t get the love it deserves. Whenever there’s discussion of plane spotting in Chicago, it’s always assumed that O’Hare is the venue, and that’s just not right. Sure, as a dedicated Southwest Airlines A-Lister, Midway is the one-and-only Chicago airport that’s deserving of my regular (and frequent) business. But setting loyalties aside for a moment, the spotting at Midway is quite simply excellent for any and all, even the hard-to-please “legacy lovers” who stalk United and American at ORD.
Why? Well, the opportunity for incredible photos like the one above should be enough, but if you aren’t convinced, read further…