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Reply From Houston Regarding Spotting Area

Tue Sep 30, 2003 12:50 pm

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..


Jeremy Hooper

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
Central File
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RE: Reply From Houston Regarding Spotting Area

Tue Sep 30, 2003 1:04 pm

Very nice and well thought letter you wrote them, Jeremy. It is too bad that they did not grant your request. At least you have something from someone high up stating that spotting is indeed not a crime but a supported activity. Print out a copy of it and take it with you spotting, highlighting the 3rd paragraph. In the meantime, I guess make best of what you have and continue to pursue having the spotting area reopened. Best of luck to you and all other Houston spotters.
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RE: Reply From Houston Regarding Spotting Area

Tue Sep 30, 2003 1:15 pm

I wonder if it would be worth proposing a 1 day a week opening for starters. With us all volunteering to be the eyes for the specific days. They can ID check me all they want, along with a few others

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RE: Reply From Houston Regarding Spotting Area

Thu Oct 02, 2003 1:00 am

NIce nette3rs Jeremy. While I cannot challenge that they cite manpower issues as for the reason the obs. decks cannot be used, I am happy they are starting to consider and are aware of what other airports ARE doing.

keep the pace going.

Write a letter guys! make a difference.

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RE: Reply From Houston Regarding Spotting Area

Thu Oct 02, 2003 2:47 am

I live in Houston and all I can say to your letter to the Mayor is...AMEN! 100% in agreement here and I would love to see Lee Rd. lot opened to the public again.
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RE: Reply From Houston Regarding Spotting Area

Thu Oct 02, 2003 3:29 am

Sure would be nice to have the areas open today to see the An-225!!! I am heading to the garages now.
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RE: Reply From Houston Regarding Spotting Area

Thu Oct 02, 2003 12:46 pm

Indeed a nice letter Jeremy and it is comforting to see that a Senator took an interest in our dilemma. Still I get the feeling that Vacar's words have little or no meaning. While I rather like Jeremy's (Artsymans) suggestion and I am willing to participate, I am not holding my breath. I noticed that Vacar mentioned MCO, frankly I hope that HAS does not look too closely at MCO's program. With all of the paper work that is involved and then being restricted to the main parking garage, away from all of the action requiring a monster piece of glass, hardly seems worth the effort. Though with IAH however the terminals and A/C garage are fairly close to the action. As for DFW, I was not aware that DFW had an "Airport Watch Program".

BTW, are nay you guys attending the collectors show on the 4th at the Clarion Inn or the "Airport Festival" the following Saturday the 11th?

"Show me the Braniffs"
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RE: Reply From Houston Regarding Spotting Area

Thu Oct 02, 2003 12:54 pm

Excellent letter...probably the best one I think Ive read re: spotting in the US...but its sad that most of the airport authorities in the US still don't get it...IAH authorities should be talking to MCO, FLL, DFW, DEN etc. to make this work...it doesnt involve much more than a police car coming by every now and then to make sure that everythings ok...what is so hard about this concept???

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RE: Reply From Houston Regarding Spotting Area

Thu Oct 02, 2003 1:41 pm

By the way, I'm taking the official "Airport Tour" of IAH on Friday. I will use this as an additional opportunity to voice our cause.
Last year 1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something.

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