Econintersect: The next time you are waiting in the terminal or standing in a boarding line for a flight, here is a factoid to contemplate: This year the FBI expects about 3,700 incidents of laser attacks on aircraft inside the U.S. from positions on the ground. The targets are helicopters and airplanes but the majority are expected for departing or arriving airliners just as they approach or leave a runway. The FBI says that these incidents involve hand held laser pointers and may actually be only a small fraction of the attempts made each year because "thousands of attacks go unreported every year" (FBI statement) and some attempts may not actually hot intended targets (Econintersect opinion). (Click on picture for larger image of laser pointers.)
There have been a large number of other criminal charges (besides aircraft related incidents) made with respect to misuse of laser pointers. Some of these, along with some aircraft incidents, have been documented at LaserPointer Safety.com.
A summary of the aircraft situation is found in a post on the FBI News Blog (official FBI site):
These incidents are dangerous to pilots in the cockpit, passengers aboard the plane, and people on the ground. Captain Robert Hamilton of the Air Line Pilots Association, International was landing a plane when he was struck by a laser light. “I had temporary blindness. My eyes were burning. It caused disorientation, and it was distracting,” he says.
To combat the threat, the FBI recently established a Laser Strike Working Group National Initiative, which includes law enforcement partners and private entity stakeholders. The idea came from the FBI’s Sacramento Division, which created the first Laser Strike Working Group in 2008 to reduce incidents in the area. It worked—the number of attacks against commercial aircraft arriving and departing from the Sacramento International Airport decreased 75 percent.
Those who aim a laser pointer at an aircraft can be prosecuted under two federal statutes. A law put into effect this year makes pointing a laser at an aircraft a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $11,000 per violation. Under a law already on the books, those who interfere with the operation of an aircraft can receive up to 20 years in prison and be fined $250,000.
The following illsutration is from the FBI News Blog:
- Laser Pointer Attacks Taking Off: Pose Serious Threat to Aviation Security (FBI News Blog, 05 October 2012)
- Laser Strikes against airplanes now an "epidemic," says FBI (Nate Anderson, ars technica, 05 October 2012)
- 14 Year Old Arrested For using Laser Pointer (1450 KMMS AM Radio, 14 February 2011)
Hat tip: Naked Capitalism