Bedfordshire Police are training an unlikely bunch of people to work as the “eyes and ears of the police” around London Luton Airport, in a bid to catch would-be villains unawares.
The trainees, 550 members of the Luton Airport Aviation Enthusiasts Scheme (AES), a collective of plane spotters, and a real mouthful, have been asked to collect “invaluable intelligence” whilst they watch the planes land at the UK's fifth largest airport.
Police introduced the scheme six years ago, as a wave of paranoia following the destruction of the World Trade Centre in 2001 forced an upheaval in airport security procedures. However, the project was initially used to keep an eye on plane spotters, ensuring that Luton’s anorak-clan masses were not Al Qaeda in disguise.
In 2010, Bedfordshire Police are realising the benefits of having sympathetic spotters stationed around Luton Airport. "(The AES) forms an extra layer of security for the airport," a local police officer explained. “Its hundreds of members have helped in a number of potential security situations,"
AES members are treated to a photo card and a car sticker identifying them as an authorised visitor to Luton Airport. Spotters are also given phone numbers to call in the case of an emergency, such as a hole in perimeter fences.
Despite the high profile of Luton’s plane spotters, the Bedfordshire hub is a “not a fantastic airport to view at all,” according to enthusiast website, Plane Mad, due to the airport’s proximity to cliffs and main roads.
However, local fans are directed to Luton’s high number of executive and private jets, which provide more variety than a Ryanair Boeing 737 or a Thomson Airbus A321.