Around the world, airports attract a curious breed of aficionados: plane watchers who like to get close to an active runway and observe incoming and outgoing aircraft from underneath the flight path. Some bring their children to experience the thrill.
Like avid bird watchers, some keep logbooks of the planes they see and share the information with like-minded aviation buffs. For these people, watching planes is a serious hobby; like those who do the same with certain types of trains ("train spotters"), they call their activity "plane spotting."
Others, like me, enjoy another aviation-related hobby: listening to the chatter between air traffic controllers and the planes around major airports. As a youth, I used to listen on a portable multi band radio, twirling the dial ever so gently to find just the right frequency to eavesdrop on these professional communications. It was quite a thrill to hear these voices through the static and imagine the decisions being made in the cockpit or the radar room.
Now, thanks to the Internet, this activity is accessible to a lot more people, the reach is global and the quality is crystal-clear.
If you'd like to try it out, go to http://www.liveatc.net/ and choose an airport nearest you. The site offers a ranking of the more popular air traffic control towers, based on how many people are listening at any time. Listeners seem to like hearing controllers and pilots around JFK in New York; Las Vegas, Nevada; Sydney, Australia; Boston, Toronto and Hong Kong; but this varies according to the time of day.
Compared to some years ago, you can hear a noticeable increase in the number of women's voices in the cockpit, especially from U.S. airlines. The industry is changing.
You will need a media player to listen. Mine loads on iTunes.
Sometimes the signal from controllers at a certain airport is not available on the web and the site lets you know when communications are "up" or "down", location by location.
No time wasted.
If you'd like to know more about plane spotting, try http://www.planespotting.com/