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Laser Offenses an Increasing Problem in Aviation Safety

Because of the serious risk of aircraft accidents, it is now illegal to point a laser at a helicopter or an airplane. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 raised the penalties for so-called “lasing” offenses, one response to the number of reported laser incidents having increased by 1,000 percent since 2005.

A quick Internet search will show you how easily a high-powered laser can be purchased. These otherwise harmless devices can pose a serious threat to pilots whose night-vision goggles greatly magnify laser light. Of course, the risk of injury extends to people on the ground, particularly in urban areas where takeoffs and landings are common and crashes could occur.

Other efforts to combat the problem include the Federal Bureau of Investigation launching a two-month trial program that offers a $10,000 reward to anyone who reports a lasing offense that leads to an arrest. The program was started in 12 cities, including Chicago.

Further, two years ago, a number of laser incidents in South Carolina forced Coast Guard pilots to abort their missions. After that, local ordinances were passed to prevent the sale of lasers to minors and limit the sale of high-powered devices. Lasers with less than a milliwatt of power are not thought to be dangerous to pilots.

In addition to enhanced night-vision goggles, a possible tool in preventing laser incidents would be for the Federal Aviation Administration to adopt tactics similar to those in South Carolina. Comprehensive federal regulation may be the most effective approach, given that planes and helicopters frequently cross state lines.

According to the FBI, 3,960 laser incidents were reported last year. That number represents an alarming potential for aircraft accidents. Federal officials and others concerned with aviation safety will have to work together to raise awareness and address this particularly modern problem.

Source: ainonline.com, “AIN Blog: Torqued: Stopping Aircraft Laser Incidents Requires More Than FBI Bounty,” John Goglia, April 1, 2014

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