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Laser-Aircraft Events Doubled in 2010

Lasers

January 20, 2011 — In 2010 there was a near two-fold increase in reports in the United States of lasers pointed at airplanes from the previous year, the FAA reported this week. Figures released showed more than 2,800 nationwide reports, the highest number of laser events recorded since the FAA began keeping track in 2005. That year there were 300 reports, soaring to 1,527 reports by 2009.

“The FAA is actively warning people not to point high-powered lasers at aircraft because they can damage a pilot’s eyes or cause temporary blindness,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “We continue to ask pilots to immediately report laser events to air traffic controllers so we can contact local law enforcement officials.”

The FAA said the increase in reports is likely due to a number of factors, including the availability of inexpensive laser devices on the Internet; higher power levels that enable lasers to hit aircraft at higher altitudes; increased pilot reporting of laser strikes; and the introduction of green lasers, which are more easily seen than red lasers.

Los Angeles International Airport recorded the highest number of laser events with 102 reports, and the greater Los Angeles area tallied nearly twice that number, with 201 reports. Chicago O’Hare was a close second, with 98 reports, and Phoenix Sky Harbor and San Jose International tied for the third highest with 80 each.

And it’s not just airliners experiencing laser tagging; according to Tammy Jones, FAA spokesperson, a significant number of incidents are reported from general aviation pilots. “A lot of GA aircraft have reported incidents to air traffic control,” she said. ATC then contacts local law enforcement which attempts to immediately locate the source and apprehend the perpetrators. Pilots who experience being shined by a laser in flight should report it immediately to air traffic control, Jones said.

Some cities and states have laws making it illegal to shine lasers at aircraft and, in many cases, people can face federal charges for doing so.

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