In case anyone is interested, here is a letter I sent to the City of Houston about spotting down here; the reply appears below my letter:
Dear Mayor Brown,
I am writing to request that the City of Houston re-open the aircraft observation park located on Lee Rd. adjacent to George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Since early 2003, this park has been closed to aviation enthusiasts amid security concerns associated with increased hostilities in the Middle East. This closure has placed a serious hamper on the practice of the worldwide hobby known as “Plane Spotting” at IAH Airport. I personally miss the opportunity afforded by the observation park to sit back and relax after a stressful day and watch planes arrive from all over the world. I frequented this park several times, and usually there would be around 10-15 individuals watching airplanes with me at any given time.
I understand the security concerns presented by this new post 9/11 world we live in, and I share these concerns. But I believe that a lack of understanding of our hobby, as well as a lack of understanding of the threat of a terrorist attack by shoulder fired missile, on the part of the general public as well as elected leaders has fostered an unwarranted fear of the practice of plane spotting, a perfectly legitimate and lawful activity. This fear has resulted in the closure of two airplane spotting areas at IAH Airport; one located on Lee Rd. and the other located at the end of Rankin Road. We must now drive all the way to Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport to watch planes, where their airport observation park, known as “Founder’s Plaza” (a tribute to the founders of the airport), has remained opened. Now that hostilities in Iraq is coming to a close, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has reduced the terrorist threat level to “Yellow”, it is time to allow citizens to once again enjoy freedoms that were afforded to us prior to the increased terrorist threat level “Orange”.
While naturally I don’t expect you to put plane spotters’ hobby above national security, I believe you’ll agree that re-opening the park to plane spotters will actually improve the security of the airport perimeter. We will agree to be the “eyes and ears” around the airport, as part of an “Airport Watch” Program. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, along with the Transportation Security Administration, developed a similar Airport Watch program for general aviation airports, patterned after the highly successful Neighborhood Watch programs. While at the park, we will be on the lookout for suspicious activity. Street crooks know they’re more likely to get away with their crimes when they commit them in deserted areas away from people, and right now, the observation park serves as such a deserted area. Similarly, a terrorist will feel more comfortable staging an attack from a deserted airport observation park, while he would likely never attempt an attack from a crowded park of people who are vigilant and able to take immediate action to alert authorities.
Additionally, you should take note that the Dept. of Homeland Security has said that an attack by shoulder-fired missile in the U.S. is very unlikely. However, if this should be attempted, it is widely known that these missiles are capable of striking their targets from up to ten miles away from the airport. This is an area that cannot possibly be restricted or controlled, despite our best efforts. The point here is that a determined terrorist does not need access to the airport observation park or elsewhere along the immediate perimeter of the airport to carry out an attack. Our efforts should be focused on locating and eliminating the people who possess this capability, rather than Band-Aid efforts at restricting aviation enthusiasts from watching airplanes from a park.
Finally, I would like to reiterate my request that the City of Houston re-open the airport observation park located on Lee Rd, at least during daylight hours. Please consider alternatives to an outright ban on the use of this park. As an example, Orlando International Airport issues “Facility Use Permits” to plane spotters to allow them to enjoy spotting upon presenting valid identification. Many European airports are actively encouraging plane spotters to keep an eye out for suspicious activity around the airport. For more information on our hobby, please visit http://www.airliners.net or http://www.planespotting.com/. I also encourage you to visit the Houston Spotters Club at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/iahspottersclub/. And if you want to see some fabulous pictures taken right here in Houston of all kinds of airplanes, visit http://www.airliners.net and perform a search for photos taken at IAH. I am proud to live in the United States, where we value our freedoms not necessarily afforded everywhere in the world. I hope you will support the restoration of the freedom enjoyed by plane spotters at George Bush Intercontinental Airport by reopening the Lee Rd. airport observation areas..
I sent a copy of this letter to Sen. Cornyn..........and here is their reply to the Senator:
Dear Senator Cornyn:
The City of Houston aircraft observation area located on Lee Road at George Bush Intercontinental Airport was closed to the public early 2003 amid security concerns expressed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Office of Homeland Security.
Recently a task force which included the FBI, TSA and Secret Service officials inspected the airport's perimeter and had concerns about the observation area and other potential areas of vulnerability within our perimeter boundaries.
Closing the observation area does not restrict the plane spotter from seeing aircraft at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The Houston Airport System community supports the aviation enthusiast and we share the spotter's desire to have an advantageous location from which to view aircraft. To this end, the Houston Airport System recommends the roofs of Terminal A, B, and C parking garages as an alternative.
While it is our desire to reopen the observation area, there is a need in the Houston Airport System to have a program and staff in place which supports this activity. Unfortunately, the HAS Public Safety staffing level cannot support effective and efficient management of the observation area.
The Houston Airport System is aware of some "Airport Watch Programs: at other US airports like DFW and Orlando International, and is conducting research to enable us to develop a suitable program for our airports as well.
Thank you for your concern and we can assure you that the Houston Airport System is committed to making the airport accessible to the community.
Richard M. Vacar, A.A.E.
cc: Mayor Lee P. Brown
Mr. Mark V. Mancuso
Mr. Jeremy Hooper