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Aircraft Laser Attacks Are On The Rise Posing A Serious Threat To Aviation Security

October 7, 2012 - If you’ve ever thought about pointing a hand held laser at an aircraft of any kind, think again. It’s highly dangerous and a federal crime. The number of laser attacks in the U.S. is on the rise.  

Incidents are projected to reach 3,700 this year compared to just 283 in 2005. That’s a rise of more than 1,100 percent. And that doesn’t include the thousands of attacks that go unreported every year. 

George Johnson, a supervisory federal air marshal who is a liaison officer with the FBI, says the number of attacks is almost reaching an “epidemic level.”  


In recent years, technology has improved the performance and power of handheld lasers, the Internet has also made these gadgets cheaper and easier to purchase. These incidents are dangerous to pilots in the cockpit, passengers aboard the plane, and people on the ground. Captain Robert Hamilton of the Air Line Pilots Association, International was landing a plane when he was struck by a laser light. “I had temporary blindness. My eyes were burning. It caused disorientation, and it was distracting,” he says. 

To combat the threat, the FBI recently established a Laser Strike Working Group National Initiative, which includes law enforcement partners and private entity stakeholders. The idea came from the FBI’s Sacramento Division, which created the first Laser Strike Working Group in 2008 to reduce incidents in the area. It worked the number of attacks against commercial aircraft arriving and departing from the Sacramento International Airport decreased 75 percent. 

Those who aim a laser pointer at an aircraft can be prosecuted under two federal statutes. A law put into effect this year makes pointing a laser at an aircraft a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $11,000 per violation. 

Under a law already on the books, those who interfere with the operation of an aircraft can receive up to 20 years in prison and be fined $250,000. “Use a laser pointer for what it’s made for. Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is dangerous and reckless. Just don’t do it,” says Johnson.


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