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Why do we need a serious plane-spotting facility at Dublin Airport?

Give Me a Crash Course in... Dublin Airport’s planned Aircraft Observation Facility: It would be flying in the face of reality not to have one apparently, as they are common enough elsewhere

Artist's impression: Dublin Airport has submitted a planning application to create a new dedicated viewing area

I’ve got a lust for life… lust for life..! Oh sorry, that’s Trainspotting. What’s plane-spotting?

Plane-spotting – also known as aircraft spotting – is a hobby involving observing and tracking aircraft and noting their serial numbers, usually accompanied by photography or videography. There is a decent-sized community in Ireland – anyone driving to Dublin Airport via Junction 4 of the M50 will have passed plane-spotters observing aircraft taking off and landing from their roadside nook on the Old Airport Road. Cork Airport has a similar favourite (and unofficial) observation spot for hobbyists, at Lios Cross. There is also a thriving community on YouTube.

Good for them. But why is it in the news?

Dublin Airport has unveiled plans for an official Aircraft Observation Facility, to be located on the present “Mound” site where spotters have traditionally gathered.

Fancy!

It is, sort of. The airport promises “a comfortable and safe space for the community to view aircraft movements”. The site would include a car park with 22 spaces, including two for reduced mobility drivers, two dedicated family spaces and a covered platform with seating – all powered by solar panels.

Sounds revolutionary.

Not really. These facilities are already common at airports globally. Heathrow in London has a viewing stand for non-passengers looking on to the northern runaway, while Schiphol in the Netherlands has two dedicated sites. Hamburg airport has observation decks at both terminals, including seating and telescopes.

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So Dublin is just catching up with the times?

That’s the gist of it. “Aircraft observation facilities are a feature of airports around the world,” said Gary McLean, managing director of Dublin Airport. “As well as providing a plane-spotting platform, the facilities also create an interface between the airport and the local community, helping aviation enthusiasts to engage with the airport by observing aircraft movements and airport operations.”

A crowd of plane-spotters gather in August 2022 to watch the first flight to use the new North Runway at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Noting that the Mound had been used informally by spotters for decades, he continued, “we think it’s time to put a more formal facility in place”.

It just goes to show – some hobbies transcend national boundaries.

Sort of – it should be noted, however, that plane-spotting is largely confined to certain parts of the world. In 2001, some British plane-spotters were arrested and charged with spying on a Greek military airfield. When the enthusiasts explained they were merely pursuing their favourite pastime, the authorities were baffled. “It’s a hobby unique to the UK and the Benelux countries. Other countries just don’t understand the enthusiasm to collect aircraft numbers,” Ken Cothliff, owner of Air Supply bookshop, told the BBC at the time.

The view from the mound: a day with the plane spotters of Dublin AirportOpens in new window ]

All is sunny at Dublin Airport then?

Well perhaps not. While plane-spotters will look forward to spanking new facilities, a cloud looms over Aer Lingus, with pilots threatening industrial action this summer. They are seeking a pay increase of 24 per cent over three and a half years, and talks between their union and the airline broke up earlier this week. Holidaymakers will hope the situation does not escalate. If it does, the closest they may get to a plane this summer will be watching one from the Mound at Dublin Airport.

Ed Power

Ed Power

Ed Power, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about television and other cultural topics