Thursday, 11 July 2013

When the world leaders came to town...

Northern Ireland - An iconic country in terms of how far it has come in the past few decades played host to the 2013 G8 Summit which was held on the 17th and 18th of June at the Lough Erne resort in Fermanagh.

Weeks before the much anticipated event for Aviation Enthusiasts, I and a few friends from an online Aviation Forum localized to Ireland ( whom I had never met until the summit, got in touch with the PSNI, more commonly known as the Police Service of Northern Ireland regarding the possibility of being able to gain entry into Belfast International Airport's highly secured perimeter during the G8 summit to:

 1. See the Delegates aircraft arriving at the airport ahead of the summit.
 2. And also get pictures of the aircraft arriving - After all, we are aviation lovers!

At first, we thought we would really be pushing our luck in the sense that, the likelihood that we would even get a reply from PSNI would be very slim...

A few weeks on from the messages being sent - We got replies. Replies telling us to get in touch with Cons. R. Taylor of the PSNI who would look into the proposal. Both surprised and excited we all got in touch with the officer who then proceeded to organize a meeting for us all to gather to discuss what we wanted to get from the summit in terms of Aviation Spotting. 

The meeting was hailed a success by all who attended and within a few weeks, special passes had been issued to only a select handful of people which allowed them to get into two locations with no problems as long as they had the pass. 

Location one was Killead Parish Church located just to the side of the approach lights for runway 25 at Belfast International and Location two was at the other end of the runway, runway 17, and it was simply a car park. See picture below:

After weeks of waiting, the 15th of June arrived - The big arrival expected today was the Japanese B747 among others, there were also C-17s, Merlin helicopters, Chinooks... but it was primarily the 747 that those with the passes, were going to the airport to see.


It was expected to arrive in the evening, but no one had a precise time, therefore, I, also wanting to be places early, headed up to the airport at about 14:00hrs. The wind was coming from the east, making runway 17, where location 1 is situated - In use. So, that's were I headed for.

To my amazement, I wasn't the first person there! I showed my pass, entered the car park, and set up my kit, I was then approached by a police officer who, by no coincidence, was enthusiastic about aviation too, we had a lengthy conversation about all things aviation. Shortly after the officer left and got back to his duties, I was approached by a few guys who had just pulled up in their cars, one of them had the whole radar system and ATC radio going in his car, the other was a journalist (Well so he said) who was scottish, and another guy, who was local-ish, Declan. We got into a conversation, yet again about aviation and the summit in particular, before getting word that the runway had changed, so, as you can probably guess, we headed in a small motercade for the other side of the runway. We arrived there, and a few other members whom I'd met at the police meeting, but also from the online forum were there already. We got talking and as the time went by, more and more of the members, who had obtained passed began to arrive, all in all, there was about 25 of us there in the car park at the church, location one - Waiting for the Japanese to arrive. It then sprung to our
attention that David Cameron, should in theory, be in Northern Ireland to welcome the delegates, as at the end of the day, it's him who's holding the summit.

After having word that his BAe 146 had took off from London heading North West towards Northern Ireland we began preparing for his arrival. He arrived at about 16:00hrs.

Once he arrived, it was apparent that the Japanese were near... Oh the excitement!

The 747 was plotting on FlightRadar24 so we knew where he was - At around 9:15 the B747 was just off the eastern coast of Northern Ireland, now I began to get really excited, this would be my first B747 sighting - And what a beautiful sighting it was. 

Once it touched down on runway 25, I finished up the conversation between myself, Michael, James, Ian, Paul, John, Declan and the others and we began packing our kit away for the night, for an early start to the 17th of June, the first day of the Summit. Obama was due in at 06:30hrs and for convenience, I booked in to the local B&B with my dad - Who I'm still training to become an aviation spotter.

It was evident that the police presence around the airport perimeter was heavy, with police checkpoints being carried out on every road leading to the airport. I don't think at any point, I was in a position where I couldn't see any police officers - It really was that tight.

My dad and I woke up at the crack of dawn, had a quick wash and cup of tea and out of the B&B we went, the weather was terrible unfortunately, but there was no stopping me. The first question of the day was, which runway was in use, my dad and I headed straight for location one, at Killead Parish Church... Turns out our guess was right, most of us, from the previous evening had already arrived and the conversation resumed in anticipation for Obama and the other delegates arrivals.

Shortly after 08:20 - Air Force One was in sight, this was it, the one we'd all been waiting for... It was B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L!


After Obama's arrival, in the distance, there was a sighting of Marine One and Two surrounded by Merlins, heading towards the Center of Belfast where Obama had a planned speech at the Waterfront Hall.

The runway had changed to runway 17, so we all scrambled to the second location in a matter of minutes to catch the other delegates arrive, inc. Angela Merkel, Stephen Harper, Francois Hollande, Enrico Letto, Vladimir Putin.

Spotters at Belfast International aren't really treated with anything special, just a steady flow of easyJet, and Thomas Cook aircraft, so when we knew that we would see the German A340, Canadian A310, Russian IL-96 we had reason to be excited, they arrived at intervals of about an hour each into Aldergrove until about 16:30hrs when they had all arrived. We'd been up from 06:00hrs in the morning spotting - It was time to call it a day and to say goodbye to new faces and friends until next time. (If there ever is a next time!)

Hold up! - That's not all, because I love avaiton so much, I went back to the airport on Tuesday the 18th June to catch the delegates departing... But guess what? We missed Air Force One departing; We were at the wrong runway! Amateur mistake of a spotter, not really like to us, but on the plus side we saw the Russians leaving, which we wouldn't have seen if we went to the other runway, all in all it was an amazing experience for anyone interested in aviation. 


I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every member of the online forum who attended over the summit for making it what it was, I would like to thank the PSNI and Cons. R. Taylor in particular for all his hard work in getting the passes sorted out for us and also the Minister of Killead Parish Church for granting us access into the church grounds.

I had a great few days at the airport, and it has opened my eyes to the world of aviation and spotters. 

Thanks for reading, 

I hope you enjoyed!