Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Transportation Home  |  Discussions  |  Traffic  |  Columns  |  Q&A     |      Twitter |    Facebook   |  phone Alerts
Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 03/ 1/2011

Lasers aimed at planes targeted

By Jim Abrams, Associated Press

People who knowingly aim laser pointers at aircraft would be committing a federal crime subject to up to five years in prison under legislation passed by both the House and the Senate.

The House on Monday approved by voice vote the Securing Cockpits Against Laser Pointers Act, a response to a growing number of incidents of pilots being distracted or even temporarily blinded by laser beams and concerns that terrorists might use lasers to bring down aircraft.

The Senate passed the same provision a month ago as an amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration spending bill. The two chambers must now agree on a common format to send it to President Obama for his signature.

The FAA reports that the number of cases of people pointing laser at planes and helicopters jumped from 1,527 in 2009 to 2,836 in 2010. In some cases pilots have had to relinquish control of an aircraft to a co-pilot because of vision loss.

The House bill's sponsor, Republican Dan Lungren of California, said there were only 400 reported incidents in the 15-year period before 2005, when a similar bill passed the House. He said another major concern has been cases of airborne police units being forced to abort crime scene responses because of laser interference.

Law enforcement pilots "have to consider the possibility that they are being illuminated by a laser scope attached to a rifle," Lungren said. He said the shining of lasers at aircraft cockpit was "a tragedy waiting to happen."

In addition to temporarily incapacitating pilots, laser beams can cause eye damage.

The threat from handheld laser pointers has grown as they become more powerful and more affordable. Lasers that once cost more than $1,000 can now be bought online for a few hundred dollars or less. Incidents have been common near airports where pilots, either coming in for landing or taking off, need to be at their most alert.

"The risk associated with laser illuminations is unacceptable," said Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. He said "pointing lasers at aircraft in flight poses a serious safety risk to the traveling public" and urged the government, in addition to passing legislation, to restrict the sale of high-powered portable lasers and increase the size of laser-free zones around airports.

Federal law already allows charges to be brought against those seeking to destroy an aircraft, but the law requires the government to prove willful intent to endanger a pilot. That can be difficult in the case of laser pointers, where some users may have malicious intent but others may be laser enthusiasts who don't realize the harm that long-range laser beams can cause.

Current law also covers commercial flights, but may not extend to law enforcement helicopters that are particularly vulnerable because they fly at lower altitudes.

Associated Press writer Joan Lowy contributed to this report.

Related stories:

Lasers an increasing hazard for pilots

Why lasers and airplanes don't mix?

By Jim Abrams, Associated Press  | March 1, 2011; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Airports, Aviation  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: I-66 blocked at Glebe Rd
Next: GAO: Taxpayers pay for trucking

Comments

SCALPA? Really? No shortage of racists in the home of the Redskins.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 28, 2011 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company