NEW YORK—U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer wants the public to be aware that shining lasers into an aircraft’s cockpit is a crime. Even small laser pointers, often used for educational presentations, can broadcast light up to about two miles, he said, causing “disruption and disorientation” for pilots.
“Pointing a laser at an aircraft is foolish, downright dangerous, and it could be deadly,” said Schumer at his Midtown Manhattan office.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced last year, individuals who point lasers at aircrafts from the ground could face fines up to $11,000 per violation. Between June 2011 and May 2012, the FAA initiated enforcement action against 28 people charged with pointing lasers at aircrafts. People on the ground are subject to a regulation that states, “No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember,” interfering with “the crewmember’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated.”
Laser illumination may cause distraction, glare, afterimage blindness, or even permanent damage to eyesight, the FAA notes.
While on the ground the laser beam may be only an inch thick, when it reaches the cockpit, it may be up to two feet wide and incredibly painful to the pilot’s eyes and skin. Thousands of pilots reported laser strikes during flights in the last year.
A bill was introduced last year, but hasn’t passed the Legislature yet, that would lead to up to five years of prison or fines of up to $250,000 for people who shine lasers at aircraft.
Schumer pointed to the statistics—300 reports of laser incidents in 2005 rose to 3,591 in 2011—as evidence that current efforts haven’t worked.
Recent laser strike
A green laser was beamed into a JetBlue airplane flying to JFK Airport from Syracuse on July 15. The pilot suffered a minor eye injury, yet landed the plane safely, according to NYC Aviation citing the FAA. This incident prompted Schumer’s letter, though LaserPointerSafety.com, while noting the seriousness of the issue, said the “FAA should be more accurate, and give additional information, when providing information about pilot eyes affected by laser light.” The website notes out of the total incidents in 2011 there were 55 FAA-reported “injuries.”
Schumer also sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration Sunday asking the required strength of “recreational laser pointers” be lowered. Labels should be put on these laser pointers, “making it clear that it is a federal crime to shine them at aircraft,” and laser devices with higher strength, often used for medical research and light shows, should have purchasing restrictions, he added.
JetBlue said in an email they “support efforts to explore ways to reduce laser interference in aviation.”
The Food and Drug Administration didn’t return a call asking for comment before press deadline.