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Thursday, June 28, 2012

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Earning their wings: Female plane spotters pose in front of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner inside a Japan Airlines hangar at Narita International Airport in May. KYODO

Plane spotting takes off as latest fad among women


CHIBA — Years after female Japanese train spotters were given the nickname "tetsuko," which loosely translates as "rail girl," officials of Narita International Airport and the nearby city of Narita, Chiba Prefecture, recently coined the word "sorami" — "air girl" — to describe members of the growing band of female plane spotters.

Just as a tetsuko would crisscross the nation to photograph different trains, so a sorami such as Ayumi Fukuda, a 34-year-old public servant from Takaishi, Osaka Prefecture, travels from Hokkaido to Okinawa to capture images of airplanes.

In May, she was one of 27 participants in an event organized for sorami in Narita.

"I don't understand why airplanes can fly, and that's why I'm attracted to them," said Fukuda, a plane spotter of five years.

The event was organized by Narita Kuentai, a group consisting of employees of the Narita Municipal Government and the airport that works for the development of the local community.

After gathering at a hotel in the city, the participants, mostly in their 20s and 30s, were given a tour of a park close to the airport and taken to a Japan Airlines hangar to photograph planes.

"It's huge!" "Beautiful!" the assembled sorami exclaimed as they entered the hangar and set eyes on a JAL Boeing 787, the state-of-the-art Dreamliner. Some lay on the ground to photograph the plane from a certain angle, while others posed in front of the jet for photos with mechanics, who were acting as tour guides.

According to photographer Charlie Furusho, there is a difference between photos taken by male and female airplane fans.

"Men just tend to photograph the aircraft, so as to make a collection of them, while many women include flowers and other seasonal items in the picture," said the 39-year-old photographer.

He said women seem to enjoy the color scheme and other aspects of how a plane looks.

Fukuda said that among her fellow plane spotters, men tend to be more interested in the technical aspects of aircraft, such as engines. "But I like to take pictures of airplanes against a natural backdrop."

She uploads her photos to the Internet.

Narita municipal officials are starting to look at sorami, whose numbers have been growing recently, as a way to boost the local economy.

"We are planning to organize more tours for women and increase shooting locations. We also hope to set up a facility to boost exchanges among fans," Narita Mayor Kazunari Koizumi said.

In-flight Internet service


Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways will provide onboard Internet access services via Wi-Fi wireless connections for smartphones and notebook computers for international flights.

JAL will begin the service July 15 and ANA in summer 2013.

The airlines decided to introduce the services after surveys showed that customers want to use the Internet, and send and receive email during flights. Some major foreign carriers already have such services.

JAL will first offer the service for flights between Narita International Airport and New York using Boeing 777-300 jets. By the end of this year, the service will become available for flights linking Narita with Chicago, Los Angeles and Jakarta.

Fees for the service are $11.95 for up to 60 minutes of Internet connection and $21.95 for up to 24 hours.

ANA will provide the Internet service on flights using the Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 767-300ER aircraft. The airline has yet to announce the routes and fees.

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