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Posted at 10:56 AM ET, 01/19/2011

Lasers an increasing hazard for pilots

By Washington Post Editors

The number of reported incidents where lasers have been pointed at airplanes almost doubled from 2009 to 2010, according to a statement Wednesday from the Federal Aviation Administration.

"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," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said. "We continue to ask pilots to immediately report laser events to air traffic controllers so we can contact local law enforcement officials."

Reports rose from nearly 300 in 2005, when the FAA first began keeping track, to 1,527 in 2009 and 2,836 in 2010. The highest number of incidents was reported at Los Angeles International Airport, which recorded 102 in 2010. In the Washington region, Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport made it into the top 20, with 31 reports.

Officials attributed the increase to several factors, including the increasing availability of inexpensive lasers with higher power, increased reporting and the introduction of green lasers, which they said are more easily viewed than red. Many of the incidents involve airliners that were in the midst of takeoffs or landings, critical phases of flight when pilots need to be at their most alert.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wrote about the problem Wednesday on his Fast Lane blog.

"Imagine that you've been piloting an aircraft for two or three hours in nighttime conditions, when suddenly a brilliant green beam hits you directly in the eye," he wrote. "The result? Persistent pain, eye spasms, and spots in your vision."

Here is a list of airports with the most reports of laser incidents in 2010.

  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)-102
  • Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)-98
  • Phoenix/Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)-80
  • San Jose International Airport (SJC)-80
  • McCarran International Airport (LAS)-72
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) -66
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK)-55
  • Honolulu International Airport (HNL)-47
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)-39
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)-38
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)-38
  • Tucson International Airport (TUS)-37
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)-36
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)-36
  • Portland International Airport (PDX)-32
  • LA/Ontario International Airport (ONT)-32
  • Bob Hope Airport (BUR)-31
  • Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI)-31
  • John Wayne Airport (SNA)-31
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)-26

This post has been updated.

By Washington Post Editors  | January 19, 2011; 10:56 AM ET
Categories:  Airlines, Aviation  
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Probably very difficult to track down the clowns doing this, but I hope the penalties include mandatory jail time, without possibility of a suspended sentence.

Posted by: BEEPEE | January 19, 2011 11:33 AM | Report abuse

It shouldn't be difficult to detect. Arm airplanes with laser detecting and following weapons. Eliminate the source of the problem.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | January 19, 2011 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Not sure about fixed wing, but relatively easy with rotary (helicopter) as evidenced by the local incidents reported and prosecuted in Fairfax County. My son-in-law flies for the Coast Guard and knows more than one pilot who has been temporarily disabled on a mission as the result of an idiot on the ground thinking that this is a harmless stunt.

Posted by: AlligatorArms | January 19, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

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