surinenglish

A passion for planes

A small group of planespotters are positioned just a few metres from the runway at Malaga airport to take photos of the planes.
A small group of planespotters are positioned just a few metres from the runway at Malaga airport to take photos of the planes. / Ñito Salas
  • Malaga Airport is a popular destination for spotters whose hobby is taking photos of aircraft

Montserrat Pin is wearing a heavy rucksack on her back. Her left hand is holding a small folding chair and there is a professional camera in the other. It's 8am on a Saturday in November. The sky is bright blue and cloudless, but it isn't a day for the beach because there is an icy, cutting wind.

It soon becomes apparent that Montserrat is not the only one waiting here to be checked for security. Around 50 people have gathered and they all share the same hobby. Some know each other, others don't.

Luis Álvarez is also from Madrid and considers himself a "hunter" of aircraft. Luis Vaz, who has come from Lisbon, is more interested in taking a good photo and doesn't mind if the registration of the plane can't be seen clearly. There are people here from Austria and China. Shery Shalchian, a tall, robust man with a curving moustache, is from Iran.

This hobby takes people all over the world. In this picture, two international visitors study a catalogue of planes.

This hobby takes people all over the world. In this picture, two international visitors study a catalogue of planes. / Ñito Salas

The hobby they share is not very common. They are planespotters, enthusiasts who take photos of planes with their own cameras. Some people like to run marathons. Others enjoy fishing. These are passionate about seeing an Airbus 320 take off or land yet again.

All of those here today are keen to take more photos for their personal archive. They are individuals for whom the most exciting plans in life are flight plans. Luis Álvarez is one of them.

Luis is a well-built chap who speaks with a Madrid accent. From Mondays to Fridays he works in a bank. He fondly recalls his first camera, a Minolta X250. "The word airborne could have been invented just to describe me," he says, boasting that he has taken photos of planes all over the world.

It's true that Luis has travelled to a great many countries, but hehasn't seen much of them. With the odd exception, the only trip he makes is from the airport terminal to the runway and back. "I have all the Iberia fleet, and Air Europe's too. Well, actually, nearly all the European airlines," he says, proudly.

He starts to talk about his travels. Or, rather, the "hunting trips" he says he takes with his camera. A short while ago, for example, he was in London for a flight exhibition. From there, he went straight on to Amsterdam. At Schiphol airport, there is a special platform specifically for 'spotters', from where they can take their photos. Luis says he believes Amsterdam city centre is meant to be very beautiful, but he doesn't know. He didn't leave the airport.

The En Aire group poses for a family photo in Malaga.

The En Aire group poses for a family photo in Malaga. / Ñito Salas

For Luis and others like him, the road to happiness is marked by names such as Emirates or Quantas. Iberia and the other European airlines are boring. Alitalia, however, once broke with routine and started to display a McDonald's logo on the fusilage. For these enthusiasts, having one of those aircraft in front of a camera is like an astronaut landing on a star which has been named after him.

After exhaustive security checks, half a dozen of us, all wearing high visibility vests, are put on a bus and taken to runway 13-31. That's the code for the old runway at Malaga airport. The new manager, Pedro Bendala, is also on board the bus and is obviously very happy with his new post.

When the bus stops, after a longer journey than expected, the group get off and stand on the tarmac. When looking at an airport from an incoming plane, it seems miniature, but from here everything looks gigantic.

The planespotters line up and start setting up their tripods and cameras. The photographic equipment here must be worth 100,000 euros in total, at least. People are chatting. Unlike birdwatchers, they don't need silence in order to spot their prey.

A blue and white giant appears out of nowhere in the sky and starts to descend. José Antonio Monago falls silent. The former president of the Extremadura regional government has been taking photos of planes for 30 years and says it is his "secret passion". Today he is just one of the group.

Behind his sunglasses, he squints and presses the button on his camera. When the plane turns out to be a Ryanair Airbus, he doesn't think it is anything special, but he still religiously takes photos of it.

The planes take off and land every five minutes. Now a private jet arrives. Is it a Gulfstream or Learjet? Nobody's sure. "It's lovely, anyway," says José Antonio. The politician who is accustomed to addressing the Extremaduran parliament now turns his body, very slowly, to follow the plane. After 90 degrees, he takes several shots. In the background, you can hear everyone else doing the same.

José Antonio always looks at the photos he has taken straight away. "It's not bad. I'm getting better at this now. I look for the right moment, and the right light," he says. He's not keen on Photoshop. "It's a tool for bad photographers," he says. Once home, he downloads the photos he has taken and discards those that are no good. The rest are saved in a file, each aircraft carefully labelled. If any picture is particularly good, he shares it on internet forums.

At the end of the day, the group of planespotters have spent more than ten hours taking photos. Cristian González, a 20-year-old from Malaga, is thrilled and he has great plans for the future. "I want to be a pilot one day," he says. "What else?"