With the number of reported incidents of people aiming lasers at aircraft on the rise in the United States, action is being taken by the US government to stem the tide of the potential fatal activity.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Randy Babbitt have jointly announced that the FAA will begin to impose civil penalties against people who point a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft.
Which raises an interesting – and rather disturbing – q uestion. Just why would anyone think of aiming a laser at an in flight aircraft in the first place?
1,100 Laser Incidents This Year
Pilots throughout the United States have reported more than 1,100 incidents so far this year of lasers being pointed at aircraft. This is worrying because a laser could temporarily blind the pilot, putting passengers and crew in the aircraft at serious risk. It could also endanger the lives of people on the ground.
“Laser events”, as they are called, have steadily increased in the United States since the FAA created a formal reporting system in 2005 to collect information from pilots. Reports rose from nearly 300 in 2005 to 1,527 in 2009 and 2,836 in 2010.
Los Angeles International Airport recorded the highest number of laser events in the United States in 2010. There were 102 reports at LAX, which accounts for nearly twice the number recorded for Greater Los Angeles, which has a number of secondary airports. The region as a whole had 201 reports.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport came in second with 98 reports. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport tied for third, recording 80 laser events each.
Laser Events in 2011
The Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth areas have both recorded more than 45 laser events so far this year. The Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Houston areas each have all recorded more than 30 laser events.
“Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft is not a joke,” says FAA Administrator Babbitt.
“These lasers can temporarily blind a pilot and make it impossible to safely land the aircraft, jeopardizing the safety of the passengers and people on the ground.”
Why the Increase in Laser Events?
According to the FAA, the increase in the number of reports can be attributed to several factors. First, pilots have become more aware of the problem. Because of outreach to them, they are more likely to report laser events than they were in the past.
More disturbing, laser devices have become more affordable, and they can be purchased on the Internet. Stronger power levels make it possible for lasers to hit aircraft at higher altitudes. And the introduction of green lasers has made the problem more serious because green lasers are more easily seen than red lasers.
“Our top priority is protecting the safety of the traveling public,” says Secretary LaHood.
“We will not hesitate to take tough action against anyone who threatens the safety of our passengers, pilots and air transportation system,”
The maximum civil penalty the FAA can impose on an individual for violating the FAA’s regulations that prohibit interfering with a flight crew is US$11,000 per violation. Many cities and states in the United States already have laws on the books making it illegal to shine lasers at aircraft.
Copyright: Michael Taylor Pictured: Los Angeles International Airport at sunset Photo Credit: Toffel via Wikimedia Commons