February 12, 2014 in Nation/World

FBI: Lasers not harmless prank for pilots

Paresh Dave Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

Los Angeles Police Air Support Division helicopter pilots listen to a campaign to publicize the problem of pointing lasers to aircraft.
(Full-size photo)

A rise in reports

The number of reported incidents of someone pointing a laser at an aircraft increased from about 2,800 in 2010 to nearly 4,000 nationwide last year. Portland had the most reported instances, with 139. The rest of the top 10: Houston; Phoenix; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Los Angeles; Las Vegas; Chicago; New York; Honolulu; and Miami.

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – Nearly 11 aircraft a day around the United States had a laser pointer aimed at them in 2013, an increasingly worrisome trend that has inspired the FBI to offer $10,000 rewards to people who help officials catch laser-shining culprits.

“Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a serious matter and a violation of federal law,” Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, said in a statement Tuesday. “It is important that people understand that this is a criminal act with potentially deadly repercussions.”

Law enforcement officials have tried to crack down on “lasing” for the last two years, but this appears to be the first time dedicated rewards are being offered.

Pilots have said that lasers aimed through the cockpit windows can temporarily blind them while obscuring potentially all visibility through the windshield. A handful of pilots each year on average require medical attention after a laser attack, the FBI said.

If disoriented, pilots are urged to take one of several actions, including relying on automated flight controls, aborting a landing and turning up lighting within the cockpit.

The Federal Aviation Administration can fine offenders $11,000 per incident. During the last two years, the FAA has opened 152 investigations and brought 96 enforcement actions.

But laser strikes also are punishable in criminal court by a fine of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison.

Most of the strikes happen overnight, and flights between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. are especially susceptible, the FBI said. Almost all of the laser incidents involve a green-colored beam, which are more visible to the human eye than red beams, according to the FAA.

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