Plane-Spotters Avoid Jail Time in India

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Two British men who were found with a scanner, laptop, binoculars and cameras, and who admitted to "illegally monitoring aircraft" near Indira Gandhi International Airport, India, have been fined by an Indian court, but were released Friday without jail time. Stephen Hampton, 46, and Steven Ayres, 56, had faced up to 10 years under spying charges, but pled to a lesser offense that could have led to three years in jail. The two were arrested in India, Feb. 15, two days after a bomb blast in the Indian city of Pune initiated a security crackdown in the country. In the UK, authorities have approached plane-spotters differently. In 2004, a UK plan sought to recruit them to report suspicious potentially terrorist-related activities near airports. That program does not exist in India. There the men were arrested for recording the conversation between pilots and air traffic control, which (as performed) was against sections of India's Telegraph Act. The men pled guilty to a breach under the act.

Hampton and Ayres originally drew suspicion when, prior to their arrival, they requested a Radisson Hotel room overlooking an airport runway. Upon their arrival, their equipment was apparently enough to spark security's concern. Ultimately, the courts fined the men roughly $550 and left them free to return to the UK after stop notices were removed from their passports. Reports said that the equipment the men used could acquire information from the aircraft that identified each aircraft's make, tail number, and the airline that operated it. They could then use that information to track the aircraft around the world, according to a spokesman for the men. Hampton's mother told reporters her son travels the world to take pictures of aircraft, as a hobby.