Taking photographs of aircraft taking off from a UAE airport could result in a prison sentence. Stephen Lock  / The National
Taking photographs of aircraft taking off from a UAE airport could result in a prison sentence. Stephen Lock / The National

UAE residents warned against photographing aircraft

DUBAI // Airport authorities and planespotting enthusiasts have cautioned against taking photographs of aircraft in the UAE without permission, citing the two-month prison sentence for three British hobbyists as a warning to others.

“Any request to film or photograph aircraft from within or around the airports has to follow a strict approval process before an individual or group is granted access,” said a spokesman from Dubai Airports.

“Dubai International and Al Maktoum International at DWC are secure environments with restricted access to ensure the safety and security of our passengers, employees and stakeholders.”

The response from authorities came after a judge from the state security division of the Federal Supreme Court ordered the release of planespotting British tourists Conrad Clitheroe and Gary Cooper and their UAE resident friend, Neil Munro.

Abu Dhabi International Airport also specifies on its website that permission is required for photography and videography. It grants site visits to certain areas of the airport after the required documentation and reasons for filming are submitted.

Complying with local security laws and understanding that the hobby is not recognised here as it is in the West was important, planespotters said.

“I’m glad they got their freedom and can be reunited with their families but it’s a lesson learnt to be cautious about local rules and not take photographs without permission,” said UAE-based planespotter Sam C, a hobbyist for 20 years.

“People believe that a military plane is off limits, but photography of a commercial plane is all right, but the bottom line is we need permission. Authorities may worry that an image could be used for surveillance, by someone with bad intentions. So it’s a very tricky situation. I won’t risk it if I don’t have permission. I will view planes and not take pictures.”

Taking photos in restricted areas such as embassies, palaces, airports or security facilities can result in jail sentences lasting between one and three months, or fines up to Dh5,000.

Some areas such as military buildings, palaces and courts have signs prohibiting photography, and police can ask people to stop taking pictures or video in restricted areas without warning signs.

Dubai airport has been a popular site for planespotters with details widely available on the internet about rooftops and car parks that can be used as vantage points. Spotters said they came to Dubai to watch rare planes from more than 100 countries.

Hobbyists are warned on most websites that they may be subjected to security checks with the possibility of Dubai police asking them to delete photographs and Fujairah is described as a no-go area due to high surveillance.

Enthusiasts appealed to UAE authorities not see them as a threat since they usually photograph planes in flight.

“It would be very helpful for us to get something like a spotting permit which we can show the officers if they check us,” said Julian Mittnacht, a spotter from Germany who has travelled to several countries, including the UAE, for his hobby.

“We never take pictures of buildings or restricted areas in Dubai. Just the planes in the air are our target. I’m happy the men were released. Every single day in prison is one day too much.”

The British planespotters were arrested on February 22 when Fujairah police found them near the airport taking notes about the planes. The men pleaded not guilty to taking photographs of planes at Fujairah airport but Judge Falah Al Hajeri said last week that the court had 72 pictures of an airport that were presented as evidence.

The men were sentenced to two months’ imprisonment, but since they had already spent two months in jail awaiting trial, their sentences had been served.

Planespotters share dramatic photographs of planes framed with a city skyline. Others makes notes of registration numbers of aircraft and compile logos and markings.


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