Recently a semiconductor manufacturer was constructing a new plant in Arizona. As the construction began the onsite management noticed a plane flying overhead several times a week. They wrote down the plane’s n-numbers and promptly forgot about the plane during the holidays. After the holidays, when the managers were back at the construction site, they noticed the same plane (confirmed by the N-numbers on the side of the plane). Not sure what to do, they reported this information the president the company.
The president went to the plant site that same afternoon and witnessed the same plane overflying again. Using the FAA’s web site his staff discovered that the plane was registered to a competitor. It took a few days to coordinate, but soon thereafter the construction site was tented and all equipment installations began at night.
It was estimate that the competitor had viewed the entire layout of the factory including the installation of several pieces of proprietary equipment.The competitor, within 9 months, began re-arranging its factories to take advantage of the process layouts, and some of the Arizona company’s economic advantage was lost through this economic espionage.
As an interesting side note, while aerial surveillance is prohibited by the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, the same thing done using satellite photos is, by international treaty, not prohibited.