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It’s a fricken laser beam

infographic-night-greenYou may have heard recently about the lasing incidents taking place at LaGuardia Airport, and if you haven’t, check this link. Or, if you don’t like checking links, here’s the short version: Several aircraft have been hit with lasers while on approach to LaGuardia and the Joint Terrorism Task Force has been put on the case.

I recently completed an article for Aviation Security International (http://www.asi-mag.com) magazine on this very topic. I cannot reprint the article here, or at least not until it is been released publicly. The publish date is set for next month and the entire issue can be purchased for $2.99 through their app. However, in my research I discovered a variety of things that airport operators can do to try and combat this problem, and I can provide some basic facts.

First, TSA does not approach this as a security problem. Aircraft lasing is an FAA problem. So why would JTTF be involved? Because lasing an aircraft is a federal offense and it is investigated by the FBI.

The types of lasers that are used on aircraft are typically used in astronomy for star finding (among the most commercially powerful) although some that are used for presentations are strong enough to still reach the cockpit. These types of lasers cannot do any damage to the aircraft itself and military grade lasers are presently just used for blinding. There are lasers in development by the military that could actually damage aircraft (remember the Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s?) but these are not available for commercial use, nor are the blinding lasers.

Lasing is considered a safety threat as it can temporarily blind the pilot, but more importantly it can cause a “startle,” response. Considering that most of these incidents occur during takeoff or landing, which are the most critical phases of flight, a pilot reacting to the startle response is definitely a danger to the aircraft and its passengers.

In my interviews for the article many people believe that there are three measures to take to prevent or reduce these incidents.

  1. Airport operators can do their part by making the community aware of the dangers of lasing an aircraft. Articles in the local newspaper or on TV, publicity campaigns to area residents and even visiting high schools, as many times aircraft are lased by kids, can help reduce incidents. Many people who shoot laser at an aircraft simply do not understand the safety hazard they are creating. Consider programs that reward individuals for reporting lasing incidents, or at least some sort of hotline or weblink to report incidents (sort of a snitch-on-your-neighbor program).
  2. Prosecution of offenders, with follow-up publicity of prosecution also helps spread the word. Some states, such as California have passed specific laws against pointing laser at an aircraft, while in most other states it is prosecuted by the US attorney’s office. Make sure you’re in contact with the FBI agent assigned to aviation related crimes and see what assistance you can provide to him or her.
  3. The Air Line Pilots Association has developed materials for actions the pilots can take to either avoid being lased or how to respond to a lasing incident.

You can find the link here for the ALPA PDF file. While it is written for airline pilots might also be useful to ensure that your general aviation cargo operators also get a copy and that it is posted around the airport. It may also help to encourage your elected officials to encourage the US Attorney’s office to fully prosecute individuals who have pointed laser at a plane. Many attorney offices are reluctant to prosecute feeling that the punishment does not fit the crime.

Thousands of aircraft are lased throughout the United States, many times by people who don’t understand the danger they are posing to aircraft. Spread the word about the dangers throughout your community. Additional resources about lasers can be found here and don’t forget to download the ASI app and get next months’ edition for the full story on aircraft lasing.

To report a lasing incident, click here.

 

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